Last night, at a business conference in upstate New York, paid keynote speaker Chris Christie noted that “There is a sector of our party, which cannot find themselves genetically unable to not defend Donald Trump. This is a disaster. It’s bad for the country.” He’s right about that, but the disaster is much worse for his political party. Democratic pollster Geoff Garin: “The impact that the Mar-a-Lago issue has had is it’s raised the stakes on the unquestioning fealty of Republicans to Trump. So I don’t think they are necessarily litigating the details of Trump’s possession of super-classified documents, but voters are litigating the blind loyalty that Republicans have to President Trump and that is part of what people think about when they think about MAGA Republicans.”
But a worse disaster— for America— would be in Trump got away with his serial criminal behavior and was not held accountable. Christie mocked Trump’s legal “strategy” during his standup routine: “We have a former president of the United States who [went] on national television last night and said ‘I declassified the documents thinking about it.’ Imagine all I could have accomplished if I only knew that I didn’t actually have to do it. I just had to think about it— this is a credible candidate for 2024?”
Last night a quartet of Washington Post reporters wrote that “The legal dangers facing former president Donald Trump rose this week, after the New York attorney general filed a fraud lawsuit that could effectively shutter the Trump Organization and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit allowed federal investigators to continue their probe into classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. These and other setbacks for Trump come as at least a half-dozen additional legal efforts proceed against him and his allies— committing him to months of legal wrangling as he seeks to raise his political profile for a possible 2024 bid while also increasing the prospect of becoming the first former U.S. president to face indictment after leaving office… The breadth of current and potential legal challenges are large even by the standards of Trump, who has spent much of his adult life in litigation. He has returned to old tactics in response, seeking to delay proceedings against him, refusing to admit any misdeed and using the claims against him to rally his political supporters. ‘The people behind these savage witch hunts have no shame, no morals, no conscience, and absolutely no respect for the citizens of our country,’ he told supporters at a rally in Ohio on Saturday in a retooled stump speech. ‘Our cruel and vindictive political class is not just coming after me. They’re coming after you, through me.’”
That may work at a poorly-attended MAGA rally in Youngstown but the judges— even the judges appointed by Trump— are not having any of it. Special Master Raymond Dearie— Trump’s choice for the job— is giving his legal team one week to explain Trump’s claims about declassifying the Top Secret documents that he stole and refused to return and that he also claims were planted by the FBI.
As Jonathan Last noted this morning, “You can lie to reporters, lie to your supporters, lie in books. You can say whatever you want outside of court. But what makes a sworn oath different is that if you lie while making such a declaration, the law can charge you. And if the law convicts you, then men with guns will force you to come with them.”
This morning, CNN’s Stephen Collinson noted that “the court system is effectively telling Trump to put up or shut up about his wild claims and outlandish defenses over his hoarding of classified information at his Florida resort. The case has taken a turn against the former President and towards the Justice Department in recent days, suggesting that the classic Trumpian legal strategy of delay, denial and distraction is not working as well as usual. In a sign of the how quickly Trump’s position may be eroding in this particular drama, several Republican senators took the unusual step of criticizing his handling of the documents on Thursday, despite his firm hold over their party.”
Dearie’s demand that Trump’s lawyers explain their client’s legal bullshit about planted evidence and declassified documents by next Friday “came a day after an appeals court delivered a blow to Trump by ruling that his team had failed to show evidence to support his claims that he as President had declassified the roughly 100 secret documents the FBI took from his home. In a sense, Trump is being given his day in court and every chance to prove his statements. He is being investigated by the Justice Department for possible violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice regarding the mishandling of classified documents. There is no indication so far that he will be charged… But if the former President cannot prove his allegations, as many outside observers expect, his legal position will deteriorate considerably. The tell here may be that Trump’s lawyers, who understand they cannot lie under oath, have not repeated many of the ex-President’s statements before a judge. The latest twists in the case are therefore jamming them between their obligation to tell the truth and their client who has a famously flexible concept of facts and reality.”
The former President’s strategy is a familiar one, and has been remarkably successful for much of his long and controversial business and political careers.
Trump often substitutes a legal defense for a public relations one, blasting away at institutions, government departments, courts, officials and the media that attempt to impose accountability or call on him to justify his allegations with fact. His strong support among grassroots GOP supporters reflect Trump’s talent in creating a version of events that can become a politically potent narrative.
Often, it seems that Trump makes up a new counter-attack on the spot to get him through a particularly dicey moment, as when he told Sean Hannity of Fox News on Wednesday that a president could simply declassify a document by thinking about it in his head— an absurd derogation of intelligence processes.
This approach flounders, however, when allegations that function well as a political strategy come up against the factual threshold of a courtroom where statements must be made under penalty of perjury.
“The power of our courts is that they have a way of bringing out the truth,” CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said on Erin Burnett OutFront on Thursday, adding that anyone could say what they wanted in public or in the media. “But when you step into a court, ultimately, and it’s happening here sooner rather than later, the judge or the jury will say, ‘Fine that’s your allegation, now prove it.’”
The tension between Trump’s public statements and what is admissible in court now playing out in the classified documents case is reminiscent of what happened after the 2020 election. Trump and his political cronies made extreme allegations of voter fraud and cheating in public. But their claims were repeatedly thrown out by multiple courts when his lawyers either could not produce evidence or declined to repeat the allegations before a judge.
Unless the former President can provide credible evidence for FBI wrongdoing and that he went through a legal declassification process for the documents soon, he is likely to have more bad days in court to match those he experienced this week.
“It’s just going to expose this lie. The lawyers know they can’t lie to the judge, they could get sanctioned, they could get disbarred,” Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, said on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.”
“Trump can say whatever he wants in the public with impunity, but it’s different for his lawyers,” added Aronberg, who is a Democrat.
Fresh twists in a case that has transfixed the political world came when Judge Raymond Dearie, the court-appointed special master, said in a filing Thursday that Trump’s team must submit a sworn declaration saying whether they believe the Justice Department included items on their “inventory” of materials taken from Mar-a-Lago that were not actually seized during the search.
Trump’s claims to this effect soon after the search triggered a political furor, and were widely picked up by conservative media hosts and even by some prominent GOP lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But there may now be a price for Trump to pay.
It was the second time this week that Dearie, who was suggested for the role of special master to filter documents taken from Mar-a-Lago by the ex-President’s team, had delivered a blow to his defense. After Trump’s lawyers declined to assert in court that Trump had declassified documents he took to the resort, Dearie told them, “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”
In the other big move in the case this week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s ruling that prevented the Justice Department from examining around 100 classified documents that were taken from Mar-a-Lago. Once again, judges– two of whom on the three-judge panel were appointed by Trump– quibbled with the idea that the documents had been declassified.
“The record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. And before the special master, Plaintiff resisted providing any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents,” the court ruling said.
This came on the same day that Trump’s legal exposure on multiple fronts deepened when the state of New York filed a civil suit against him, three of his adult children and the Trump Organization alleging huge insurance and tax fraud and seeking a range of severe penalties. Trump said that he is a victim of another example of political persecution and denied the allegations against him.
The apparent erosion in Trump’s legal position is causing a simultaneous softening of the ex-President’s support base among senior senators in his party.
And while Trump is facing these legal challenges, the quarter billion fine he’s facing in New York, isn’t the only financial pressure on him. “Next month, Trump’s company will go on trial in Manhattan on criminal tax charges in a separate case that could cost millions of dollars in penalties and legal fees. And on the horizon are civil suits from people seeking to hold the former president responsible for injuries and trauma inflicted during the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by his supporters, a possible wave of litigation that some of his advisers fear could prove extremely costly to him… [W]hen stacked up altogether, the potential costs that the former president faces show that his challenges extend beyond the courtroom and into the maintenance of his wealth even as he continues to signal that he plans another run for the White House. At a minimum, Trump’s hopes for new moneymaking ventures are sputtering: The deal that had the potential to reap perhaps the biggest profits for him— a merger involving his upstart social media company— is hanging by a thread, as regulatory and law enforcement scrutiny threatens to unravel it.” Unfortunately, people like Trump never take their own lives. But let’s leave this with Jonathan Bernstein’s sympathy for the Republican Party establishment in his column today. “The relationship between Donald Trump and the Republican-aligned media is symbiotic— and dysfunctional,” he wrote, “at least for the Republican Party. Trump had a bad day on Wednesday, with New York State filing suit against him for inflating the value of his properties and a federal appellate court ruling against him in his battle with the federal government over his possession of classified documents. So what did the former president do? He went on Sean Hannity’s prime-time show on Fox News to complain. He had a completely bizarre diatribe about, among other things, how he could declassify things while president just by thinking it (uh, no) and his even goofier theory that the FBI may have been looking for Hillary Clinton’s emails at Mar-a-Lago. What Fox News gets out of all this is clear: viewers. What Trump gets out of it is also clear: the attention he craves, which also helps him remain the most prominent Republican in the nation— which helps his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination in 2024 if he wants it. What the Republican Party gets out of this is … well, nothing good.”