In top-secret documents case, Portman wants to investigate the investigators

By: - September 8, 2022 3:55 am

Ohio U.S. Sen. Rob Portman with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

It now appears that secrets of the most sensitive nature were among the documents former President Donald Trump hung onto after more than a year of entreaties by the government to return them. Having to do with another nation’s nuclear-weapons capabilities, one set of documents in Trump’s possession was so sensitive that only a few senior government officials are allowed to see them and only then on a need-to-know basis, the Washington Post reported Tuesday.

One might think that the most senior Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee would want to know what Trump was doing with those documents and how much his possession of them might have jeopardized national security. But since the Aug. 8 search of Trump’s South Florida club and residence, it appears that the only statement Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, has made about the matter has been to call for a congressional investigation of the FBI.

“As the Lead Republican on the Senate Homeland & Governmental Affairs Committee, I call on @SenGaryPeters to utilize the broad jurisdiction of the Cmte, which includes jurisdiction over the National Archives & Records Admin, to perform oversight on this issue & ensure transparency,” Portman tweeted on Aug. 14.

Portman quickly followed that with, “The Attorney General and the FBI should now demonstrate unprecedented transparency and explain to the American people why they authorized the raid.”

Many other Republicans — eager to stay in Trump’s good graces — were quick to attack the FBI for conducting the court-sanctioned search. They also attacked the Justice Department for seeking it after trying more voluntary methods to get Trump to return the classified documents.

“I’ve seen enough,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a tweeted statement. “The Justice Department has reached an intolerable state of weaponized politicization.”

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee, led by Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, in two separate tweets said, “This is what happens in third world countries. Not the United States,” and, “If they can do it to a former President, imagine what they can do to you.”

And Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., simply tweeted “DEFUND THE FBI!”

But unlike those officials, Portman in January announced that he isn’t seeking reelection. Even so, he apparently hasn’t condemned an attack on the FBI office in his hometown of Cincinnati or a rash of threats to the FBI that are thought to partly be a product of the rhetoric by Trump and his supporters.

Portman’s staff didn’t respond to questions for this story. And some observers are confused as to why Portman wouldn’t speak out against attacks on federal law enforcement or call on Trump to explain his actions as he has called for the FBI and Justice Department to do.

“He’s been a real puzzle to me,” Paul Beck, a political science professor emeritus at Ohio State, said last week. “You’d think by the time he decided to retire, he’d kind of freed himself from the clutches of Trump. But for some reason or another, he doesn’t feel that way.”

With his mild, polite demeanor, Portman is far from the Trumpiest member of the Senate. But he has been enthusiastic about some of the former president’s initiatives — particularly the 2017 tax cut.

“But that’s done,” Beck said. “The question now is, what more does he want from (Trump)? It may well be that what Portman wants is for Republicans to retake the Senate in 2022 and maybe… stymie the Biden administration for the next two years.”

Similarly to Portman, former Vice President Mike Pence on Aug. 17 said he was “deeply troubled” by the search of Trump’s club and residence. And he called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to explain more about the Justice Department’s reasons for undertaking the search — which the department has done through subsequent court filings.

But, the Washington Post reported, Pence also called on his fellow Republicans to tone down their rhetoric.

“These attacks on the FBI must stop,” the paper reported Pence as saying. “Calls to defund the FBI are just as wrong as calls to defund the police.”

Pence, whom Trump attacked during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot even as rioters were chanting to hang the vice president, is widely believed to be positioning himself for a presidential run. And he’s taken several other steps to distance himself from the former president

Is it possible that Portman by contrast is considering becoming a lobbyist post-retirement and he doesn’t want to alienate Trumpworld?

“The question is, where does he want to live?” Beck said. “I don’t know that he’s ready to go back and live in Lebanon, Ohio. Does he want to settle in Washington, D.C. and earn fairly big bucks as a lobbyist? It may well be that to do that he can’t be on the outs with Trump, but he also doesn’t have to be at all aggressive in supporting Trump’s efforts to rescind the results of the 2020 election.” 

Or Portman could simply be emulating Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a frequent target of Trump’s ire.

“You would think that Portman would be distancing himself from Trump,” Beck said. “Maybe he’s doing what Mitch McConnell is doing and that is saying nothing. And McConnell can’t be happy.” 

Follow Marty Schladen on Twitter.



Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.