Mar-a-Lago raid fallout roils the months before midterm election: The Note

The FBI operation offers Donald Trump loyalists a rallying cry before November.

August 15, 2022, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Averi Harper

Amid the fallout from the FBI's raid of Mar-a-Lago, prominent House Democrats are calling on the director of national intelligence to investigate what the agents say they found.

Reps. Adam Schiff and Carolyn Maloney on Saturday wrote a letter urging Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to conduct an "immediate review and damage assessment" after classified documents were found at Donald Trump's Florida estate, according to court documents in the investigation. (Trump's spokesperson claims the materials were declassified.)

Despite those unsealed court records showing classified and top secret files were retrieved from Mar-a-Lago, GOP lawmakers have largely rallied around the former president.

"President Donald Trump is Joe Biden's most likeliest political opponent in 2024 and this is less than 100 days from critical midterm elections," said the No. 3 House Republican, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik. "The FBI raid of President Trump is a complete abuse and overreach of its authority."

The raid and any ongoing or subsequent investigations effectively offer Trump loyalists a rallying cry ahead of the November midterm elections. It has certainly fueled Trump's fundraising efforts, as ABC News reported.

The White House maintains it didn't have any prior knowledge of the Mar-a-Lago FBI operation.

"We do not interfere. We do not get briefed. We do not get involved," President Joe Biden's press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl in an exclusive interview Sunday. She later added, "This is a law enforcement matter. And the Department of Justice is going to move forward as they see fit."

As voters close in on high-stakes midterms races and the possible launch of a Trump 2024 presidential bid, the fact is that, according to the warrant that cleared the way for the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago, the de facto leader of the Republican Party could face serious legal liability for potential violation of at least three separate criminal statutes, including under the Espionage Act.

PHOTO: Rep. Elise Stefanik attends a news conference with members of the House Intelligence Committee at the Capitol, Aug. 12, 2022.
Rep. Elise Stefanik attends a news conference with members of the House Intelligence Committee at the Capitol, Aug. 12, 2022.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The RUNDOWN with Alisa Wiersema

In less than a week, Florida voters will cast primary ballots in one of the last major political battlegrounds of the season.

The state's most high-profile and competitive contest is among Democratic gubernatorial candidates, as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Rep. Charlie Crist, also a former Florida governor, are locked in a tense head-to-head. The matchup follows a now-familiar theme for Democrats -- a younger and more progressive newcomer taking on a familiar, establishment political figure.

But unlike other intraparty matchups this year, Crist has had to balance reentering Florida's gubernatorial arena under a new party affiliation after being part of the state's decades-long streak of Republican governors. Fried has been steadily amplifying that difference, especially in the wake of the Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade.

"I have been pro-choice my entire life. I have made sure that I've stood on the side of women. Charlie cannot say the same thing," Fried said during a debate last month, while also adding that Crist appointed three judges to Florida's Supreme Court. The court currently has a conservative majority.

At the time, Crist refuted the assessment by noting that he has the backing of abortion-rights Democrats and had previously vetoed legislation that would have required an ultrasound before getting an abortion.

"[Gov. Ron] DeSantis is only interested in appealing to his far-right base. My base is all Floridians," Crist tweeted Sunday.

As the Democrats duke it out on the campaign trail, DeSantis is raising his profile in two other battleground states outside of Florida. On Sunday, the Republican incumbent hit the stump in favor of Trump-backed candidates Kari Lake and Blake Masters in Arizona. Later this week, DeSantis is slated to rally with Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania.

PHOTO: Jessie Finlayson, a volunteer election worker assembles voting booths in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 5, 2022.
Jessie Finlayson, a volunteer election worker assembles voting booths in Tampa, Fla., Aug. 5, 2022.
Octavio Jones/Getty Images

The TIP with Will McDuffie

On Friday in Erie, Pennsylvania, Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman made an anticipated return to the campaign trail after nearly three months recovering from a stroke that he suffered in May.

Fetterman, the state's lieutenant governor, was greeted by an energetic crowd of over 1,300 people, which was more than triple the expected total. They filled a convention center holding campaign signs and waving yellow towels -- a custom at Pittsburgh Steelers games.

Donning a hoodie, his signature look, Fetterman spoke for roughly 11 minutes, detailing the moment his wife, Gisele Barreto Fetterman, noticed he was having a stroke ("Gisele saved my life," he told the crowd) and ripping his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, whose campaign has made a daily habit of reminding voters of Fetterman's absence, publicizing a running "Basement Tracker."

"Are we in Erie, or have I fit 1,400 people in my basement?" Fetterman said at the start of his speech, eliciting roars.

All eyes were on his physical appearance. His speech was mostly fluid throughout his remarks, though he briefly paused in the middle of several sentences and sometimes repeated words. In an interview last month with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he said he was working with a speech therapist and insisted he had "nothing to hide" regarding his health.

Emilia Rowland, a campaign spokeswoman, told ABC News that she thought Fetterman "sounded great." But supporters who spoke to ABC News after the event acknowledged they thought he seemed less than fully healthy.

Mark Rathi, 62, of Crawford County, said the candidate "seemed a little bit off his game" before adding that he supported Fetterman because of how he connects with people.

Rita Lynch, 82, told ABC News she was "glad [Fetterman] came, but I think he's got to be careful because you could tell he was sweating a lot."

Lynch said she hopes Fetterman's aides ease the candidate back onto the trail.

"I think it was a beginning for him, the first one since the stroke, and that's always a challenge," she said.

Fetterman's team did not respond to a request for comment about his upcoming campaign plans.

PHOTO: John Fetterman, lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania and Democratic senate candidate, takes a photo with attendees after a campaign rally in Erie, Pa., Aug. 12, 2022.
John Fetterman, lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania and Democratic senate candidate, takes a photo with attendees after a campaign rally in Erie, Pa., Aug. 12, 2022.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

NUMBER OF THE DAY, powered by FiveThirtyEight

6. That's the number of primaries we'll be watching closely on Tuesday night (and Wednesday morning). And the biggest ticket affair is Rep. Liz Cheney's primary in Wyoming, although as FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich writes, based on the polls we have, Cheney isn't in great shape and should lose to her challenger, attorney Harriet Hageman. We'll also be keeping an eye on the secretary of state race in Wyoming, which looks to be closer. In Alaska, the polls won't close until 1 a.m. ET, which is why we'll be covering the results there Wednesday a.m., but we'll be keeping a close eye on the U.S. House election (both the primary and the special), the U.S. Senate primary and the governor's race. Please be sure to join us Tuesday and Wednesday as we live-blog the results at FiveThirtyEight.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. "Start Here" begins Monday morning with new details about the FBI search of former President Trump's Florida estate. ABC's MaryAlice Parks leads us off. Then, ABC's Mola Lenghi discusses the stabbing of author Salman Rushdie in New York. And ABC's Ian Pannell reports from Afghanistan as the U.S. marks one year since its military withdrawal. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken meets with African Diaspora Youth and Exchange Alumni in Washington, D.C., at 2:30 p.m. ET.
  • Congress is in recess.

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The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Tuesday for the latest.

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