APTOPIX Trump Legal Troubles

Former President Donald Trump gestures as he departs Trump Tower, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York. Julia Nikhinson/Associated Press

Maine’s Republican Party leadership and top-of-the-ticket candidates have rallied to the defense of former President Donald Trump after the FBI obtained a warrant from a federal judge to search his Florida home, repeating his baseless claims that it is part of a political witch hunt against him.

“This is not what America’s about,” former Gov. Paul LePage, who is once again the party’s gubernatorial nominee, told WABI television Tuesday. “This is not the Constitution of the United States. We’re being taken over by the oligarchs, the elitists.”

A screengrab of former Gov. Paul LePage campaigning on June 28, 2022

In reality, FBI Director Christopher Wray – a Trump appointee – and the Department of Justice obtained the search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate from a federal magistrate judge. Legal experts say the department would have had to present a very high standard of probable cause of crimes having been committed and evidence of those crimes to be present at the property in order to have asked for and received judicial approval for such a politically sensitive search.

“The evidence would have been extraordinarily strong to support the idea that crimes had been committed and that the evidence was at Mar-a-Lago and rose above the normal threshold, which is probable cause,” former federal prosecutor Michael Bromwich, who served as inspector general of the Department of Justice in the Clinton administration and investigated the bombing of PanAm flight 103, told the Press Herald. “I would guess they had super probable cause, an abundance of evidence to support the search.”

“I think this has been seized by partisans who are not content to let the criminal justice system work its way through the process,” he added.

LePage’s campaign did not respond Wednesday to a request for an interview.


Some other prominent Maine Republicans echoed attacks on the department by Trump, who has called it “prosecutorial misconduct, the weaponization of the Justice System, an attack by Radical Left,” and “lawlessness, political persecution and Witch Hunt.”


Former 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who is running for his old job, also expressed anger about the search Tuesday. “This is shocking,” he said in a statement. “Americans are concerned, many are outraged. Joe Biden and his Justice team must answer questions. At a time when Democrats are making government bigger and more powerful, Americans are worried about their freedoms.”

Maine Republican Party Chair Demi Kouzounas released a statement Tuesday saying “the integrity of our nation is at stake” and calling on the Department of Justice to release “an immediate and full explanation of what happened.”

“If this raid is part of a political witch hunt or to retrieve some documents for the National Archives, it’s entirely and grossly inappropriate,” she said. “A politically motivated raid on a former president’s home without incredibly high justification is a path that this country should never take.”

The Justice Department doesn’t comment on ongoing investigations, experts note, but Trump could provide at least some of the information his supporters are seeking at any time, as it is in the search warrant that he would have been presented.


“A witness can talk, but not the prosecutor,” notes Teri Kanefield, an author and retired appellate defense attorney who comments regularly on electoral and rule-of-law issues. “Nothing stops Trump from sharing the contents of the search warrant.”

The search warrant provided to Trump would indicate what items the FBI was seeking and what crimes they were investigating, information many Republicans are demanding the DOJ release. Details about the underlying evidence presented to the judge to justify the search warrant would be contained in a different document, an affidavit, that hasn’t been made public.

Trump FBI

FBI Director Christopher Wray waits to speak at a news conference, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in Omaha, Neb. Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Bromwich said he had been involved in scores of investigations where the agency executed search warrants and not once did it share their contents publicly until after charges were brought.

“People are deliberately missing or ignorant of how these things work,” he said. “Trump is probably thrilled with what is going on because he has rallied people to his side and he is controlling the information even though he could provide more.”


Some Republicans were more reluctant to accuse the FBI and Justice Department of abusing their powers.


Sen. Susan Collins, who is not up for re-election this year, had a more nuanced response to the search. “The raid by the FBI, if in fact it was based on disputed documents, is shocking,” she said in a written statement to the Press Herald Monday night. “We don’t know, however, what evidence led up to this decision or if there’s more involved in it. The American people need more information from the Department of Justice to make a judgment.”

Collins was not available for an interview Wednesday.

Philip Harriman, a former Republican town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, said either party’s use of the FBI search for political advantage could blow up in their faces when the details are made public.


Armed Secret Service agents stand outside an entrance to former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, late Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Palm Beach, Fla. Trump said in a lengthy statement that the FBI was conducting a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate and asserted that agents had broken open a safe. Terry Renna/Associated Press

He predicted voters will perceive events through a party lens in the meantime. Democrats will assume Trump is finally getting what’s coming to him, while Republicans will see it as an abuse of federal authority – even though no one yet knows the grounds for it or the results of it.

Generally, Harriman predicted nonpartisan Maine voters are likely to be offended by what looks like unequal treatment of Republicans like Trump and Democrats like Hillary Clinton. Both were accused of improper handling of classified documents, although the circumstances were far different.

Trump is accused of not returning all of the presidential records, including some that contained classified national security documents, that he took from the White House at the end of his presidential term. It’s not known what records he might have had in his possession at the time of the search.


In 2014, federal officials revealed that then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used a personal email address for work. Clinton claimed none of the 33,000 emails were classified, but 113 were, including three marked as such. Two years later, the FBI called Clinton careless, but said she hadn’t intended to break a law.

“That is going to seem like a two-tiered justice system to the average Mainer,” Harriman said.

Maine Republican political strategist and blogger Lance Dutson said the issues around the search play to the base of both parties, but those people’s votes, political donations and volunteer time weren’t ever in doubt heading into the fall elections.


When it comes to Maine’s large unaffiliated voting bloc, Dutson doesn’t think the Trump raid will overshadow the economy in the minds of those who are wondering how they’ll afford to buy gas, groceries, back-to-school supplies and Christmas presents.

On the other hand, Dutson doesn’t believe spinning the Mar-a-Lago search in party mailers would hurt candidates, either, unless the warrant turns out to be completely trumped up or the raid yields some kind of smoking gun, both of which he thinks unlikely.


“People are concerned about their jobs, livelihoods and families, all the economic stuff,” Dutson said. The raid, the Jan. 6th committee, is all noise, he said. “For somebody trying to raise a family in rural Maine, unless you’re already a locked-in partisan, that stuff is trivial.”

Brandon Rottinghaus, a professor of political science at the University of Houston who studies presidential scandals, said many Republican candidates may feel they have little choice but to back Trump if they are to survive politically.

“Most Republicans made the clear calculation that Donald Trump is the future of the party and you can see how his philosophy and tactics have permeated the party, including the issues they talk about,” Rottinghaus said. “Even in a purple state, Republicans don’t have a choice but to follow the hot hand, which is Donald Trump.”

There are dangers in doing that, he said. If Trump is found guilty of crimes, the party could wind up being identified with corruption. And American democracy is being damaged as well. “The country is built on faith in the rule of law and trust in institutions, and the more you erode that the harder it is to find a common set of norms when it comes to holding politicians accountable,” he added.

Kanefield agreed. “Rule of law is a form of government that derives its authority from laws as opposed to, say, the whim of a tyrant, and it has been endangered in the United States in recent years,” she said. “The only way to save rule of law is with rule of law.”

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