Analysis: Donald Trump's legal gambits offer new revelations and deepen his political risk

Analysis: Donald Trump’s legal gambits offer new revelations and deepen his political risk

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But Trump is not done with the age-old strategy of delaying, distorting and trying to tie up the legal system, which has often succeeded, throughout his life in business and politics, in deferring or preventing accountability. .

In a dizzying pivot, Trump’s legal team effectively argued that no one should be shocked that he had classified documents in his home — he was once president, after all.

“Put simply, the idea that presidential records would contain sensitive information should never have been alarming,” the filing said.

The bald-faced statement was a classic Trump tactic. He recalled the ex-president’s insistence that an official account of a conversation in which he evidently coerced the Ukrainian president into investigating Joe Biden with the promise of military aid was , on the contrary, the proof of a “perfect call”.

Trump’s approach immediately gives his supporters in the GOP and conservative media fresh material to cover their tracks, twist the case against him, and accuse the DOJ and FBI of political motives.

But he failed to address the fundamental issues that swirled around him in the documents case. These include: why did a former president need equipment, some with the highest classification designations in the intelligence community? And why has he kept equipment that could potentially harm national security and endanger U.S. agents overseas in insecure locations in his busy resort town?

And he also ignored a fundamental principle underlying the Justice Department investigation: Under US law, the papers of former presidents do not belong to the person who once served in the Oval Office. They belong to the nation and should be in the custody of the National Archives – an agency that went to great lengths to recover Trump’s loot before turning to the Justice Department.
Often, Trump’s political and legal strategies overlap. This was very successful in the case of the Ukraine appeal, which led to his first impeachment, although he avoided a conviction in the Senate, which could have impeached him. The complication here, however, is that Trump faces not political scrutiny, but legal judgment. And the past few days suggest he’s deeply exposed — not least because of a scathing Justice Department filing on Tuesday that erased many of his previous defenses and raised the possibility that Trump and his lawyers could face further challenges. obstruction charges.

Still, Trump’s filing on Wednesday, in support of his call for the appointment of an independent official known as a special master to determine whether the FBI took legally privileged documents from his home, could still work for him. short term. If a judge agrees with his broad definition of the role, Trump could throw a stick in the shelves of the investigation. He might be able to launch legal challenges rooted in claims of legal and executive privilege that might be frivolous but take time to work their way through the system. And he could challenge the Presidential Records Act through various exhaustive levels of the legal system. A hearing on Trump’s request is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET Thursday.

If he can push the probe to 2023 and possibly beyond, it could clash with the presidential campaign and help Trump frame the episode as a politicized effort by the Biden administration to thwart his comeback. to the White House. And it could once again frustrate desperate political opponents to see him quickly pay the price for his refusal to observe presidential standards and constant challenges to the rule of law.

This is one of the reasons the DOJ has urged the judge to provide any special master he appoints with extremely limited operating guidelines.

By itself, a special master is not an unreasonable request in such a case, legal experts say, although the curiosity here is that Trump waited until the government had documents he took from Mar-a-Lago. for two weeks to do so.

“If the government’s case is what they think it is, let’s play it straight, let a special master come in,” David Schoen, Trump’s attorney in his second impeachment trial, said on the show on Thursday. CNN’s New Day.

“But why not let that process wear itself out? Because part of this whole storyline has to be — satisfying the public that there’s been a full and fair release of everything, that all concerns have been addressed.”

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At the same time, however, Wednesday’s filing also threatened to backfire as he appeared to admit to the transgression Trump is accused of – keeping classified information in his home. This could be another self-inflicted legal blow. Much like the revelations from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising, the longer the process drags on, the more damning it seems to Trump.

While the ex-president has succeeded in politicizing the investigation and uniting much of the GOP behind him, his maneuvers so far have often only revealed more and more damning evidence about his own conduct.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, seems to constantly outwit Trump’s politicized and emotional defenses, which usually fail to address substantive legal issues.

The most concrete example of this is the remarkable DOJ legal filing on Tuesday night which claimed that highly classified documents were “likely concealed and removed” from a storage room at Mar-a-Lago. In a stunning photo, the file showed document title pages bearing highly classified marks on the floor after they were found on the former president’s property. The DOJ filing also suggests that Trump’s lawyers misled the FBI when they attested that all secret documents had been suppressed earlier this year, a potential trigger for obstruction charges.

What is striking about this is that Americans would never have had this level of understanding of the case without Trump himself.

“The response the Justice Department gave was perfectly appropriate,” conservative attorney George Conway told CNN’s Pamela Brown on Wednesday. “The Trump people just asked to be punched in the face and they were punched in the face by the response,” Conway said.

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Dave Aronberg, the district attorney for Palm Beach County, Fla., where Mar-a-Lago is located, agreed that Trump’s request for a special petty officer only made his position worse.

“This is another self-inflicted wound by Trump’s legal team. (The special main motion) opened the doors for the DOJ to respond with a 36-page missile right through the heart of the Trump Tower,” said Aronberg, a Democrat. CNN’s “Crisis Room”.

“You have this response that decimates Trump claims his team has been fully cooperative the whole time. In fact, it exposes a case of obstruction.”

It was not the first time that Trump appeared to sabotage his own position.

Earlier in August, Attorney General Merrick Garland requested the release of a search warrant saying classified documents were seized from his home three weeks ago. That revelation, which undermined Trump’s criticism of the search and revealed the FBI had reason to believe classified information was on the property, only came after Trump himself announced the search, then unleashed a storm of misinformation and threats against the office.

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Like many of Trump’s legal documents, Wednesday night’s document seemed as much designed to address a political audience — and stoke his campaign of fury against the Justice Department — as to ease his legal conundrum.

There are still a lot of unknowns about this case. It’s reasonable for Trump and his allies to demand answers about how the Justice Department handled an extremely sensitive case against a former president and possible 2024 presidential candidate. that the DOJ follows the rules. The search was, for example, not illegal as Trump claims, but was authorized by a search warrant signed by a judge who had to be satisfied with probable cause that a crime had been committed. It’s also impossible to get a full window into the case because the underlying affidavit that precipitated the search warrant was only released in a heavily redacted form to protect witnesses and FBI agents from negative feedback and to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

Trump’s calculation for 2024 gets complicated

The fallout from the FBI’s raid on Trump’s property has pushed the former president back into the headlines in a way that Republicans keen to focus on inflation and Biden’s low mid-election approval ratings -mandate are not welcome.

Trump plans to delay 2024 decision as political and legal issues mount

It has also raised questions about the impact of the legal pressure on him on his likely 2024 presidential campaign.

CNN’s Orr and Holmes reported that after months of considering Labor Day weekend as a target launch date for his 2024 campaign, he’s spent the past few weeks moving away from that timeline.

An onslaught of political concerns — raised by the possibility that some of his hand-picked candidates will underperform midterm — and his mounting legal worries are making Trump nervous about jumping into the race prematurely, according to nine alumni. and current Trump aides and allies who requested anonymity to discuss internal matters.

“Everyone was assuming that shortly after Labor Day would be the best possible time to launch, but that changed and he was told to take care of FBI business first,” an adviser said. of Trump.

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