What the GOP attorneys’ general brief supporting Trump doesn’t say

When Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence was raided last month, the GOP springed into action. Republicans were willing to go to great lengths and often extremely speculative and unproven efforts to defend him, even if we knew very little about the search. From their point of view, this was not just a questionable search: it was an abuse of power and a political hit job, evidence may have been planted and so on.

The passionate support and baseless accusations have since died down somewhat as the party grapples with emerging facts that paint an increasingly vivid picture of the former president bringing highly sensitive documents to his luxury resort.

Enter a group of GOP attorney generals who filed an amicus brief in the Mar-a-Lago document case on Tuesday. At first glance, the move by the attorneys general for Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and West Virginia appears to be a clear sign of support for Trump’s lawsuit.

Dig a few inches deeper, however, and it’s a lot less than you’d think. The document addresses the attack on the Biden administration and its handling of legal matters; it does next to nothing to actually address the case at hand.

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The letter begins with some of the biggest hits of the GOP’s attacks on the search itself. The report calls it an “unprecedented nine-hour search of former President Donald J. Trump’s private residence” and even characterizes it as the Biden administration “the house.” plundered by their former – and possibly future – political rivals”. (“Rubbing” often means stealing things, or at least dealing with them haphazardly and roughly.)

But other than that, the brief doesn’t address the search, Trump’s underlying conduct, or even the order being appealed at all. Instead, she devotes her entire argument to a series of cases involving the attorney generals — as well as other matters — that she says demonstrate legal “gambling.”

Certainly there is some grist for this mill. The attorneys general cite how President Biden conceded last year that extending the Covid moratorium on evictions was likely to fail in court but was still worth pursuing because it could help people before it was struck down. The brief also cites Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who accused the administration of the legal shenanigans in a long-running immigration rule litigation.

But otherwise the letter reads like a hastily compiled list of complaints you might see on a Fox News show. And the examples given are not limited to litigation; They also include public statements by Vice President Harris last week about the “security” of the border, the government’s comments about not funding “gain-of-function” research, and the aborted establishment of a “disinformation governance board.” These wide-ranging incidents are all lumped together essentially in the service of one argument: the government cannot be trusted in its presentation of the facts about the Mar-a-Lago search.

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But the brief is just as remarkable for what it doesn’t say and what it doesn’t argue. It doesn’t address Trump’s retention of government documents at all, which could be highly sensitive. (In fact, the word “classified” is not used at all.) Nor does it address the actual Mar-a-Lago search litigation raised in Judge Aileen M. Cannon’s case.

It contrasts with the amicus letter late last week from a group of GOP law enforcement officials arguing that Cannon’s order should be overturned and analyzing the legal grounds closely.

These attorneys general say they have an important perspective on the core issue of whether the administration should be treated with the “presumption of regularity” — that is, the notion that government officials “have properly performed their official duties.” But that goal doesn’t stop them from actually fighting for Trump, or at least the details of Cannon’s controversial order. However, you choose to do none of this.

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In many ways, this tactic mirrors the last time GOP attorneys general stepped forward in high-profile fashion to appear to stand up for Trump. It was after the 2020 election that Trump made all sorts of false claims about voter fraud, “stolen” elections and the like: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and others sued various swing states to try to overturn their findings. But instead of reiterating his claims with full force, the Attorneys General – almost all in this latest letter, and a few others – offered a watered-down version that merely raised questions. It was rejected by the Supreme Court fairly quickly.

It also reflects the course apparently taken by Trump’s own legal team, which has refused to vouch for many of his claims in court – most notably that Trump has declassified all the documents.

And as always, what people say publicly should be measured by what they – and their allies – are willing to say in court.

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