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Donald Trump Might Have Destroyed His 2024 Chances

Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys wanted to settle with the Justice Department last year to avoid an indictment. Trump was not interested.

President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the 2019 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with attendees at the 2019 Student Action Summit hosted by Turning Point USA at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Former President Donald Trump’s attorneys wanted to settle with the Justice Department last year to avoid an indictment. Trump was not interested. The Washington Post reports that attorney Christopher Kise, who was paid $3 million upfront to join the Trump legal team, hoped to approach the Justice Department to bring an end to the classified documents case.

Kise opted not to approach prosecutors after learning that Trump was not interested and that his other lawyers wanted a more pugilistic approach. This came amid a quiet effort to get the former president to back down and be conciliatory to avoid being charged.

Trump chose to listen to the advice of Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton, a non-attorney, and others to fight.

The Case Against Trump

The National Archives first petitioned Donald Trump to return the documents in February 2021 after he left office and did so repeatedly before serving him with notice that the matter would be referred to the Justice Department if he did not comply.

“It was a totally unforced error,” an unnamed source close to Trump who has been part of dozens of discussions about the documents told The Washington Post. “We didn’t have to be here.”

Trump pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a 37-count indictment charging him with violations of the Espionage Act, which prevents unauthorized individuals from having custody of highly classified documents. The former president contends the documents belong to him. 

Donald Trump Documents Included Espionage Operation Records

The indictment notes that Trump held onto “[c]lassified information related to intelligence sources, methods, and analytical processes that were designated Sensitive Compartmentalized Information (“SCI”).” It further notes that such information was only allowed to be stored in a SCIF and only handled by those with necessary clearances. Only those with a “need-to-know” were supposed to have access to such materials.

“After his presidency, TRUMP was not authorized to retain or possess classified documents,” the indictment said.

Trump ordered the transfer of such classified material from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. Once at Mar-a-Lago, Trump allowed the documents to be stored in an unsecured ballroom where public gatherings took place. Other unsecured locations on the property likewise were used to store the documents.

As such, the documents would have been vulnerable to enemy spies. Lives could be endangered by such recklessness if the documents were to fall into the wrong hands.

“… Trump is being persecuted–in my judgment he clearly has been for 7 years by opponents who will do anything, including break the law themselves, to get him,” Hot Air columnist Davis Strom wrote. “But I also believe that Trump has been incredibly stupid and likely broke the law, in the same manner as Hillary Clinton and likely Joe Biden did. His defense comes down to differential prosecution based on corrupt bases. Hillary got a pass, so why shouldn’t he?

Strom continued: “That’s a very weak legal case, and it needn’t have gotten this far.”

Donald Trump Defense Rests on Proving Criminal Intent

Donald Trump defenders cite what is being called the “Clinton Socks Case” by the former president and the Presidential Records Act. That case ruled that the president alone has the right to decide what is a presidential record.

Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Will Sharf, currently a GOP candidate for Missouri attorney general, noted in posts on Twitter that the government must establish criminal intent on Trump’s part to get a conviction.

“I want to make a different point relating to the intent elements in § 793(e) of the Espionage Act, the statute Trump is being charged under … requires the government to prove that the Defendant KNEW he had National Defense Information (NDI) in his possession, and also that the Defendant KNEW that there was a government official entitled to receive the Information, and also that the Defendant then WILLFULLY failed to deliver it to that official. This is a very high set of [criminal intent] bars to jump, in any circumstance,” Sharf wrote. “Proving a Defendant’s intent and knowledge can often be tough. But it’s even tougher here. The Presidential Records Act sets up a system where the president designates all records that he creates either as Presidential or Personal Records.

Sharf continued: “A former president is supposed to turn over his Presidential Records to NARA, and he has the right to keep his Personal Records.”

He argues that Trump likely believed that “old briefing notes and random maps, jumbled together with his letters, news clippings, scribbled notes, and random miscellaneous items” were mementos of his presidency.

John Rossomando was a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.

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Written By

John Rossomando is a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award in 2008 for his reporting.