Just what happened with the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago?
Investigators are trying to figure out if former President Donald Trump refused to follow a subpoena to turn over secret papers to the National Archives.
Trump wants the authorities to believe that the classified information he held was mixed in with personal keepsakes accidentally.
Is This the Smoking Gun Against Donald Trump?
Did Trump try to hide the classified materials before the FBI came to search his residence? The Washington Post reported May 26 that Trump employees moved boxes of secret papers to conceal them from searchers, according to unnamed sources. They also may have conducted a “dress rehearsal” to hide the material even before the subpoena was issued, the Post said.
Intent to Obstruct the Investigation
If true, this would show that Trump had intent to keep authorities in the dark about the documents and that he knew that storing them violated practices and guidelines established by the National Archives to keep classified documents from being held outside the agency.
Investigators are looking at whether Trump criminally intended to defy the subpoena to return the documents and that he knew that what he was doing was against the law. This new revelation could show that Trump willfully obstructed justice during the investigation.
Don’t Forget – Trump Is Allowed to Defend Himself
The FBI searched Trump’s home in August of last year and found over one hundred documents that were classified. A previous subpoena had required him to relinquish the trove of papers.
Trump’s line of defense is two-fold. The first aspect of his side of the story is that since the documents were in his possession while he was president, he was the ultimate arbiter on what is classified and what is not. The documents were thus automatically declassified since he held them in the first place. Second, he has attempted to brand his retention of the papers as accidental with no criminal intent to deceive investigators. Therefore, Trump believes he is innocent of any charges of malfeasance.
It’s Just a Clean-up
Moving boxes of documents is not a crime, he would say, and having staff rearrange the boxes could be seen as just a way to tidy up his home without criminal intent.
The New York Times has also reported that a Trump aide moved a box of records before federal authorities came to Mar-a-Lago in June of last year. The staffer reportedly did not know what the boxes contained.
Trump still has a plausible defense. Moving material may show that there was a different timeline than what Donald Trump originally claimed and that it was an effort to obstruct, but there is still reasonable doubt that Trump was trying to criminally deceive. And he will also show that a commander-in-chief can determine what is classified and what is not.
Again, Trump’s actions do not show complete criminal intent in this situation. Workers were simply cleaning the residence, his lawyers would say. A potential criminal juror may shrug his or her shoulders at this revelation. The legacy media enjoys reporting that Trump is always being hemmed in by a criminal dragnet, and they often do not articulate Trump’s plausible defense into his intent to defy the subpoena and obstruct investigators.
Also, if he is ultimately found guilty of, say, violating the Presidential Records Act of 1978, it is not clear if the charges will be misdemeanors or felonies.
Either way, Donald Trump will claim that this is another witch hunt and hoax that the Department of Justice is springing on him.
The outcome will not affect the extensive base of support that Trump always enjoys and the American people may not care that Donald Trump had classified documents in his possession in the first place.
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Author Expertise and Experience: Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.