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As Search Shows Trump Had Secret Files, G.O.P. Splits Over Assailing F.B.I.

WASHINGTON — Republicans struggled to come together on how to respond to the F.B.I.’s search of Mar-a-Lago as it emerged on Friday that federal law enforcement officers had recovered top secret files from former President Donald J. Trump’s home.

They were divided over whether to attack the nation’s top law enforcement agencies and how aggressive to be in those attacks.

Publicly, Mr. Trump’s allies continued an aggressive push to portray the former president as a political target while sending urgent-sounding fund-raising appeals to supporters. But privately, some advisers around Mr. Trump, unsure about what the F.B.I. might have recovered, began quietly cautioning fellow Republicans to dial down their statements.

On Capitol Hill, a group of conservative Republicans known as the House Freedom Caucus — many of whom dined with Mr. Trump at his Bedminster, N.J., club on Tuesday and denounced the F.B.I. search as a sign that the Biden administration was turning the country into a “banana republic” — canceled a news conference scheduled for Friday morning. They had planned to further attack the Department of Justice.

That decision, publicly attributed to a scheduling conflict, came after a gunman’s attack on an F.B.I. office in Cincinnati on Thursday afternoon and as more details emerged about Mr. Trump’s possession of classified documents.

Instead, the Republican lawmakers addressing the media Friday were members of the House Intelligence Committee, who delivered a more nuanced message, saying they remained supportive of law enforcement, and underscored their desire to maintain the F.B.I.

Still, they said that tough questions remained for Attorney General Merrick B. Garland about his decision to take the bold step of ordering a search of the former president’s home, and they promised to hold the Justice Department accountable.

Representative Mike Turner of Ohio, the ranking Republican on the committee, denounced comments from fellow Republicans, including Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who have called on Congress to “defund the F.B.I.” before having a full understanding of what officers were seeking. (Ms. Greene has begun wearing a “Defund the F.B.I.” hat.)

Another House Republican, Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona, went so far in the immediate aftermath of the search as to write on Twitter, “We must destroy the F.B.I.” (Mr. Gosar avoided the F.B.I. search on Friday, devoting his Twitter account to other subjects.)

By contrast, Mr. Turner said pointedly on Friday: “We support our men and women in uniform. And we request that anybody who’s made outrageous statements like that, that you question them and not us.”

After a federal judge unsealed the warrant authorizing the search of Mar-a-Lago and an inventory of items removed from the property by federal agents, Republicans followed different strategies in responding. The documents showed the F.B.I. had retrieved 11 sets of classified documents, including four sets of top secret documents, as part of an inquiry into potential violations of the Espionage Act and two other laws.

While the Republicans said they all stood by Mr. Trump, some embraced a toned-down response.

“I’m not for anything that’s critical of law enforcement,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “On the other hand, this is a very unusual situation, and the D.O.J. and the F.B.I. ought to come up here and answer questions. It just seems to me this was excessive and over the top.”

Mr. Cole said he was “willing to listen” to what the Justice Department had to say.

Not so for Ms. Greene.

On the Capitol steps, Ms. Greene told a flock of reporters she planned to march into the building to introduce articles of impeachment against Mr. Garland, whom she accused of “political persecution” of Mr. Trump.

“The whole purpose of this is to prevent President Trump from ever being able to hold office,” she said.

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and a staunch ally of Mr. Trump, similarly brushed off questions about Mr. Trump’s handling of top secret documents, citing the former president’s claim that he had declassified the documents retrieved by the F.B.I.

“Come on, he’s the ultimate classifier and decider,” Mr. Jordan said. “Everyone knows this is ridiculous. Everyone knows it.”

Those comments were a far cry from Mr. Turner’s message hours earlier, when he told reporters: “The issue of the handling of classified information is an issue that, of course, our committee deals with and that we’re very concerned with.”

For their part, Democrats — whose intraparty tug of war over whether and how to reform police departments has been used against them by Republicans to portray the party writ large as wanting to “defund the police” — seemed to welcome the opportunity to turn the tables.

“While the other side wants to defund the F.B.I., we want to fund our kids’ future,” Representative Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Ohio, said on the House floor while debating a spending measure on Friday.

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