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Will the DOJ’s investigation hurt Trump or make him more popular?

In the past Trump has thrived when the world seems to be against him

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Supporters of former President Donald Trump protest in Palm Beach, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022.

Supporters of former President Donald Trump walk down Southern Blvd., Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022, to protest the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach Monday.

Joe Cavaretta, South Florida Sun-Sentinel via Associated Press

A few hours after news emerged that the FBI had executed a search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, an ominous term began to trend on Twitter. Trump’s followers started talking about an impending “Civil War” against the supposed tyranny of the federal agency. 

Some may have dismissed it as inflated rhetoric from aggrieved supporters of the former president. Thursday should have changed their minds.

A man armed with an AR-15 rifle and a nail gun tried to breach the FBI’s field office in Cincinnati, after a social media account believed to belong to him issued a “call to arms” against the agency, CNN reported. Police killed him after an hourslong standoff. His motives remain unclear.

Normally, a politician would pay a steep price for being the subject of an investigation that inspired someone to take up arms against federal agents. But Trump is no ordinary political figure. In the past, he has defied expectations — and he seems to be doing so again.

Who tells your story?

The only reason why news about the raid leaked so quickly is because Trump announced it. At 4:51 p.m. EDT on Monday, he posted on his Truth Social platform that his estate had been the subject of an FBI raid. He decried the search as “prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, and an attack by Radical Left Democrats.”

Doing so allowed Trump to control the narrative and spin it to rally not only his loyal base but Republicans in general.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., threatened Garland with an investigation should the GOP win back the House in November. “I’ve seen enough. The Department of Justice has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization,” he tweeted

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Miss., called for Attorney General Merrick Garland to resign or be impeached, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. — a known Trump acolyte — called for the FBI to be defunded. She also echoed Trump’s speculation that the FBI planted fake evidence. “I think there is an extremely high probability that the FBI planted ‘evidence’ against President Trump,” Greene tweeted.

Even Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis — a presumptive challenger for the GOP nomination in 2024 — weighed in, referring to the warrant as “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents.”

Trump took a similar approach ahead of his deposition Wednesday with New York’s attorney general, Letitia James. The night before, he framed the deposition as an organized “witch hunt” against him. He invoked his Fifth Amendment rights nearly 450 times — despite mocking Hillary Clinton and some of her aides for taking the Fifth at a campaign rally in 2016. 

He posted on Truth Social, “If there was any question in my mind, the raid of my home, Mar-a-Lago, on Monday by the FBI, just two days prior to this deposition, wiped out any uncertainty. I have absolutely no choice because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”

Trump is strongest when he is persecuted

In the wake of the House Jan. 6 Committee’s public hearings, polls seemed to show that Republicans were inching away — if ever so slightly — from Trump. Any hope of that happening evaporated in recent weeks. Trump-endorsed candidates have outperformed those backed by former Vice President Mike Pence in GOP primaries. Some of them ran almost solely on the false belief that Trump won the 2020 election.

The Mar-a-Lago search doesn’t seem to have put a dent on Trump’s popularity either. A Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted after news of the search broke shows that 57% of Republicans would vote for Trump, up from 53% in mid-July. Trump’s closest contender in the poll, DeSantis, came in at 17%, down from 23% last month. Although the same poll found a plurality of voters (49%) approve of the FBI’s raid on Mar-a-Lago and 58% say Trump probably or definitely broke the law as president.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Trump’s favorability ticked up during his first impeachment investigation in 2019, and he hit a record high approval rating during the Senate impeachment trial in 2020, CNBC reported.

On Friday, a court in Florida, at the request of the Department of Justice, unsealed the warrant and property receipt from the search at Mar-a-Lago. According to the documents, Trump is under investigation by the FBI for possibly violating the Espionage Act, which can include illegally handling classified documents related to the national defense, or which could aid a foreign adversary.

Trump had already injected his perspective on the story.

“They didn’t need to ‘seize’ anything,” Trump posted on Truth Social. “They could have had it anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago.”