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Donald Trump Might Have Made a Tragic Mistake

Apparently, Donald Trump was not interested in pursuing a settlement agreement with the Justice Department in the case that, last week, resulted in criminal charges against the former president.

President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the 450th mile of the new border wall Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, near the Texas Mexico border. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)
President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the 450th mile of the new border wall Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021, near the Texas Mexico border. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Apparently, Donald Trump was not interested in pursuing a settlement agreement with the Justice Department in the case that, last week, resulted in criminal charges against the former president.

According to one of Trump’s attorneys, the idea of arranging a settlement was floated last fall. “The attorney, Christopher Kise, wanted to quietly approach Justice to see if he could negotiate a settlement that would preclude charges, hoping Attorney General Merrick Garland and the department would want an exit ramp to avoid prosecuting a former president,” The Washington Post reported. Kise planned to return all documents in question and “take the temperature down.”

Other lawyers on Trump team proposed a more adversarial approach, however. Trump was sold, and Kise – who was paid $3 million up front to join Trump’s legal team – never approached the DOJ about a settlement.   

Not in Trump’s nature to settle

Kise was not the only lawyers working to get Trump to take a more harmonious approach to the DOJ’s investigation. On “many occasions,” Trump was advised to take a more “cooperative stance” in an effort to stave off an indictment – which of course is exactly what happened last week.

“Trump, 77, now faces the most legally perilous moment of his life playing out in a federal court – charges that could bring decades in prison. He pleaded not guilty in Miami on Tuesday and vowed to fight the charges,” The Post reported.

Trump’s behavior fits the pattern. It’s not in his nature to settle. Besides, settling would have been an implicit acknowledgement of wrongdoing – which would have violated Trump’s personal constitution. I have no recollection of ever hearing Trump acknowledge wrongdoing in any capacity, ever. Do you?

And the truth is, for someone fundamentally opposed to apologizing, the DOJ’s classified documents case was not the ideal place to start, given the plausible speculation that the case is politically motivated.

Donald Trump camp speaks out

“President Trump has consistently been in full compliance with the Presidential Records Act, which is the only law that applies to Presidents and their records,” Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said in a statement. “In the course of negotiations over the return of the documents, President Trump told the lead DOJ official, ‘anything you need from us, just let us know.’ Sadly the weaponized DOJ rejected this offer of cooperation and conduced an unnecessary and unconstitutional raid on the President’s home in order to inflict maximum political damage on the leading presidential candidate.”

Clearly, the DOJ believes other laws, aside from just the Presidential Records Act, applies to Presidents and their records. And I can’t speak to the extent, if any, that Trump’s camp offered to cooperate with the DOJ, and to what extent, if any, the DOJ rejected those offers to cooperate.

But Cheung, despite having a knack for sounding biased and hyperbolic, may be onto something when he refers to the DOJ as weaponized. For the DOJ to bring charges against an individual for mishandling classified documents is unusual.

Classified documents are usually governed within the administrative realm, not the criminal realm. The present case is especially odd given that Trump, when president, had the ability to unilaterally declassify the documents in question.

He failed to do so, but the resultant criminal charges seem rather technical. Then, of course, one must account for the fact that the DOJ is currently under the purview of Trump’s chief political rival in an upcoming election.

Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor and opinion writer at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken. 

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Written By

Harrison Kass is a Senior Defense Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison has degrees from Lake Forest College, the University of Oregon School of Law, and New York University’s Graduate School of Arts & Sciences. He lives in Oregon and regularly listens to Dokken.