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Responding to FBI search, Trump and allies return to his familiar strategy: flood the zone with nonsense

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Analysis by Daniel Dale, CNN

(CNN) - In response to the FBI search of former President Donald Trump's home in Florida on Monday, Trump and his allies in Congress and right-wing media have returned to his preferred strategy for communicating in a crisis: say a whole bunch of nonsense in rapid succession.

From his battles against impeachment to his effort to limit the political fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, Trump has attempted to flood the zone with such a quantity and variety of lies, conspiracy theories and distractions that Americans will tune out, turn away or cease to know what is true and not. And he has regularly been joined by a large cast of eager defenders.

Using his familiar just-asking-questions style of promoting conspiracy theories, Trump posted on his social media platform on Wednesday a suggestion that the FBI could have planted evidence. His legal team had already been suggesting the same thing. One Trump lawyer, Alina Habba, said on Fox on Tuesday: "I'm concerned that they may have planted something; you know, at this point, who knows?"

Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky echoed this question on Wednesday, wondering on Fox how we know "they won't put things into those boxes to entrap him." Fox host Jesse Watters had gone further on Tuesday, saying the FBI was "probably" planting evidence, and Paul's campaign had adopted the "probably" by Friday.

There is just zero basis for any of this.

Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida offered up a different baseless conspiracy theory about federal malfeasance, saying on Fox on Tuesday that he didn't think they were looking for documents at all but were probably using that as an "excuse" to root around Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence for "whatever they could find." Rubio's comments were at least more plausible than the hogwash offered up Tuesday by Anna Perez, a host for right-wing media outlet Real America's Voice, who uttered a QAnon-style monologue, falsely claiming the search was a conspiracy to prevent Trump from carrying out a (nonexistent) plan to expose criminals serving in government.

More deception

Another Real America's Voice host, right-wing activist Charlie Kirk, claimed Thursday that the FBI "occupied Trump's home -- a military occupation." Though it's odd to describe the execution of a search warrant as an "occupation" of any kind, it's flat false to claim the military was involved in this search.

The former President's daughter-in-law Lara Trump delivered an impressive variety of claptrap in a single sentence, saying on Fox on Tuesday that the searchers were "a bunch of people unannounced breaking into your home like this and taking whatever they want for themselves." A source told CNN that the FBI gave the Secret Service about an hour's advance notice of the search and that the Secret Service met up with the FBI agents as they arrived and ensured they had uninhibited access. And a search warrant does not allow searchers to take "whatever they want," certainly not "for themselves"; the Department of Justice asked a court to unseal a document listing what was taken, and Trump consented.

Republican Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House minority whip, went on Fox on Thursday and said that "it concerns everybody if you see some agents go rogue." There is no sign that any agent went rogue. Even Trump-friendly Fox host Steve Doocy challenged Scalise, noting that agents were simply executing a search warrant. Scalise then invoked an inaccurate report that Attorney General Merrick Garland hadn't known about the search, falsely saying Garland himself had said he hadn't known about it. (Later on Thursday, Garland said he personally approved the decision to seek the search warrant.)

Whataboutism about Democrats

As usual, Trump and his defenders tried some whataboutism -- pointing a finger, dishonestly, toward prominent Democrats.

Trump baselessly suggested former President Barack Obama had mishandled presidential records after leaving office by, Trump claimed, keeping more than 30 million documents, many of them classified, and taking them to Chicago. The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issued a Friday statement explaining it has "exclusive legal and physical custody" of the Obama-era records, that NARA itself moved about 30 million pages of unclassified records to one of its own facilities in the Chicago area, that the classified Obama-era records are maintained in a separate NARA facility near Washington, and that "former President Obama has no control over where and how NARA stores the Presidential records of his Administration."

Trump and some of his media defenders went back to his old chestnut about how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been permitted to "acid wash" emails, a fabrication loosely based on the fact that an email-deletion software program happens to be called BleachBit; Fox's Watters was especially literal, falsely claiming Tuesday that Clinton had "poured acid" on emails.

Trump also suggested that there was something suspicious about the fact that, he said, his lawyers had not been allowed to witness the search, posting on his social media platform on Wednesday: "Why did they STRONGLY insist on having nobody watching them, everybody out?" But there is nothing unusual about this; lawyers don't have a right to be in the room to monitor a search.

For good measure, Trump lawyer Christina Bobb threw in a transparently false claim about Trump's popularity. She said on Right Side Broadcasting Network on Tuesday that the Department of Justice was trying to find an easy way to prosecute "the most popular president, and probably the most famous president, in American history."

Trump's average Gallup approval rating over his term, 41%, was by far the lowest for any president since Gallup began measuring presidential approval in 1938.

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