No exit: After Mar-a-Lago raid, Trump is trapped — and his fear is palpable

Donald Trump's lifelong grift is nearing its final act. Across America his power is fading — and he knows it

By Brian Karem


Published August 11, 2022 6:30AM (EDT)

Former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)
Former U.S. President Donald Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at the Hilton Anatole on August 06, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

There is no limit to the depths Donald Trump will explore to beg for money.

A day after the FBI executed a search warrant on his home at Mar-a-Lago, the former president sent out emails to his supporters saying the FBI had "raided" his home, "broke into" his safe and possibly planted evidence. Was he upset? Maybe. Was he innocent? Who cares? But he was open about needing money to help battle "the corrupt left," whatever that means. And so, dear friends and neighbors, the preacher in the big pop-up tent is going to pass around the hat, and if you'd very graciously give everything you have, the billionaire who needs your money would much appreciate it. By the way, would you like a new shirt with Donald's portrait? He's got those too.

Few would even have known Trump's residence in Florida was the subject of a search warrant had he not announced it to the world in order to make some money and stir up the rabble. The FBI has made no public statement about the search warrant and executed it as surreptitiously and professionally as possible. Trump, of course, said his home was under siege and as expected the Trumpers cackled like geese on the pond and threatened violence. Many probably eagerly gave him more money.

Make no mistake, the search of a former president's home — even though Trump wasn't there, and had no idea what the FBI did or didn't do while on site — is unprecedented. Trump was right when he claimed that no president has ever had that happen before — but then again, no president before Donald Trump had ever merited an FBI "raid."

The search warrant apparently has to do with 15 boxes of material (including some classified material) Trump took with him when he left the White House. Rumors have been heavy about what that information was, and what it would be used for — up to and including sharing it with those who shouldn't have it. The FBI not only had to provide substantial information that indicated a search was timely and necessary, but an independent judge had to sign off on the search. This is as serious as it gets. 

It is also just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Donald Trump's alleged crimes — which includes actions taken prior to, during and after the Jan. 6 insurrection. It also includes election activities in Georgia and God only knows what else.

Stray mentally challenged Trumpers may be dangerous, but those still vaguely aware of reality are less interested in taking up arms for a whiny baby who wishes his generals were like Hitler's.

Trump, attempting to rally his rabble of disaffected supporters, has played the victim card at every opportunity. He screams "Deep State" and "Witch Hunt" so often, you just know they'll soon be featured on red MAGA hats that Trump will eagerly sell for just $25. Supplies are limited! Get them now! They're going fast!

The former president held the world captive while in office with his constant whining and ranting. Like a toddler in a high chair spilling his food while soiling his diaper, Trump has perfected the art of the whine. The far right is screaming "Civil war," and Trump eats it up.

Let them whine. They're as full of shit as he is. After five years of threats from Donald Trump, I can tell you one thing — the stray mentally challenged Trumper may be dangerous, but with so many of them facing prison time because of the insurrection, those who are still vaguely aware of reality are no longer so interested in taking up arms for a president who once wished his army generals were more like Hitler's. 

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In short, Donald Trump's time on stage will soon be done. This week it was reported he is shopping for an attorney to defend him in a criminal case. Good luck. Trump doesn't pay anyone he hires, shoots his mouth off randomly, bullies those who work for him and hasn't, according to several DOJ sources, had an attorney worth a cup of warm piss since he drove the Trump bus over Michael Cohen at the beginning of his presidency. Maybe he can get the firm of Dewey Cheatum and Howe to defend him. Those three stooges are the best Trump can hope for.

Cohen tweeted out a smiling video cheering the DOJ after the FBI searched Trump's home, so I doubt Trump has a hope in hell of getting him back. Perhaps Rudy Giuliani will hold another press conference in front of a landscaping company to give us the latest. But then again, Rudy claims he's too infirm to go to Georgia to testify — so who knows. 

Still, here's what we know: Not only is Trump coming to the end of the line, but he can no longer rely on his faithful rabble to scare people into leaving him alone. Moreover, it's doubtful there are enough of his faithful handmaidens left to do the job.

*  *  *

The clouds were thick. The air was hot and sticky.  Nearby stood a tall oak tree. In a limb some 20 feet above the ground I saw a Trump flag, caked with dried mud and wrapped around a branch. There were clothes in another nearby branch and corrugated tin wrapped around the trunk.

Welcome to eastern Kentucky. It's a bastion of Trump support, inhabited by QAnon supporters, coal miners, climate change deniers and the assorted partially-educated working poor.

For some of those people, everything they owned was wrapped around the surviving trees or strewn across the road after the recently receded floods.

This area of Kentucky is dominated by the Daniel Boone National Forest and littered with small towns and unincorporated areas nestled around churches and small stores. In the late 1980s this same area was the site of "Operation Green Gray Sweep" — a state police effort to eradicate the marijuana crop, which in some places still rivals tobacco in popularity, and is still for some strange reason illegal in this state. It isn't uncommon for banks to hire private security at the end of the growing season as the local farmers deposit proceeds from their lucrative cash crop.

Yes, it's an area of conflict, hypocrisy, incongruity and amazing contradictions. While churches are common, Christianity isn't. Religion in the area is used as both a cloak and a dagger by politicians, moralists and the denizens of the rural countryside.

Joe Biden toured eastern Kentucky on Monday to see the flood damage caused by intense thunderstorms, right on the heels of a congressional vote on landmark legislation to combat climate change — which has hit eastern Kentucky citizens hard, even if many of them completely deny it exists.

Few presidents have ever had to confront so much irrationality and fewer still have successfully done so. You can argue about education, gerrymandering, religion and anything else you want, but sometimes you can't fix stupid. 

"It's unfortunate. It's my second visit to Kentucky for a crisis," Biden said. "I promise you… as long as it takes, we're going to be here. We [the federal government] are committed. There's absolute 100 percent coverage of cost for the next few months."

Few presidents have confronted as much irrationality as Joe Biden. Fewer still have successfully done so. You can argue about education, gerrymandering and religion, but you can't fix stupid.

It took a set of balls neither Trump, Josh Hawley nor Mike Pence have ever had for Biden to show up in the middle of Trump country and declare he has empathy for citizens who are suffering, and who mostly hate him. Biden did that, and there were some I spoke with in the small towns throughout the region who appreciated it.

Remember, this is an area of the country that lives and dies on the latest accomplishments of the University of Kentucky Wildcat basketball team. Legendary Wildcat shooting guard Rex Chapman, or "Sexy Rexy," is a traitor to some of these people because of his progressive stances on social media. Yet as one man told me, "He's one of our own. We love him to death," adding, "but I wouldn't let him in the house any more. He's part of the Deep State."

At an airport in rural Kentucky there hung two flags, according to pool reports: One that said "F**k Biden" and another declaring support for Trump in 2024. But the vitriol against Biden is waning here, as is the fealty to Trump. "Trump is just a sore loser liar," I was told by a shop owner outside Hazard. "I voted for him twice. I love him. But he's a con man. He's a liar like every other politician. He lost and he can't admit it."

Near Richmond, I spoke with a man who said, "Trump was the best. What happened? I saw the [Jan. 6 committee] hearings. He's crap."

The hearings have slowly seeped into the national consciousness and conscience, separating the Trump reality from his fiction. This week's search at Mar-a-Lago will go further to do so. "They wouldn't do that search if they didn't have a reason," I was told by the same man who claimed he loved Trump.

In Missouri, where Sen. Josh Hawley is now routinely mocked by some of the farmers and rural citizens who voted for him, the infrastructure bill, the Jan. 6 hearings and other signs of normalcy are sinking Trump's potential political future into a thick morass of meaningless mediocrity. "I'd like Biden to get inflation under control, but it's been more peaceful with him around. Nobody seems as angry," I was told. "And there's nothing wrong with building roads and bridges."

Biden's influence may actually be growing outside the Beltway, even as he gets pummeled by critics and members of the D.C. press corps. In a trip across the country during the last week, everywhere I drove there were fewer signs of angry Trump supporters. On I-64 in southern Illinois, just last year I saw enormous Trump flags, flanked by bales of hay and American flags, on at least three separate sites. You couldn't drive more than a few miles without seeing pickup trucks cruising around with huge Trump flags anchored in the truck bed. I saw none of that over the last few weeks. Trump, when he's spoken about at all, is usually mentioned dismissively. There are definitely folks who will defend him when you ask, but the energy and vitriol once attached to his name are gone.

Instead, you hear the normal chant of "All politicians lie," and "I hate the president."

Trumpism, it appears, is receding like the Kentucky flood waters, just when Trump needs his supporters the most.

*  *  *

Wherever Trump is this morning, the walls are probably painted in ketchup and broken china. His yellow, dilated eyes are evidence of his growing fear. The combination of terror, sweat and expelled body fluids have combined to make his turgid, fetid nest smell like Satan's outhouse. His fear is palpable and a big part of that fear is that he doesn't know what the Justice Department knows. That's why he wants someone, anyone, to tell the world what the FBI is up to.

There are those, particularly Trump and his supporters, who would like to see Attorney General Merrick Garland and the FBI address the search of Mar-a-Lago now, in a news conference. I am not one of those. I am content to let the wheels of justice grind on in their natural course because, having spent four years covering Donald Trump, I know where this will inevitably lead: to his prosecution, conviction and imprisonment. 

Trump demands attention, and demands an explanation, because he wants to get in front of the coming calamity. But he cannot avoid the reckoning he is due, no matter how much he cries. Garland is a meticulous, smart prosecutor who won't give Trump the fuel he wants to ruin the prosecution. Careful, stealthy and quiet is the perfect way to investigate Trump, who is careless, bombastic, loud and rude.

Remember Trump is a hollow man and we all know how they end: "Not with a bang, but with a whimper."

Trump is whimpering not just because the world is catching up with him but because his lifelong grift is nearing its end. The world is putting him in its rearview mirror.

He sees it. He knows it. He fears it. And ultimately, he can't escape it.

He's done.

By Brian Karem

Brian Karem is the former senior White House correspondent for Playboy. He has covered every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan, sued Donald Trump three times successfully to keep his press pass, spent time in jail to protect a confidential source, covered wars in the Middle East and is the author of seven books. His latest is "Free the Press."

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Commentary Department Of Justice Donald Trump Fbi Joe Biden Kentucky Mar-a-lago Merrick Garland