Rolling Stone Magazine is reporting that when Trump’s lawyers told the former president that he was on the verge of a federal indictment relating to his handling of classified documents, Trump said that he still wanted “my documents” and “my boxes” returned. Trump reportedly asked his lawyers if they could retrieve the documents from the government.
Trump has also insisted that it was “illegal” that he was no longer in possession of the documents that the FBI seized in their Mar-a-Lago raid last August. The documents belong to “me,” Trump emphasized. Trump also asked his lawyers if there were any “legal maneuvers or court filings” that could help him get the documents returned.
“For much of his post presidency, Trump has incorrectly insisted to various aides and confidants that the highly classified documents he continued to hoard were ‘mine.’ In some of these conversations, according to the source with knowledge of the matter, Trump has also mentioned that he’ll get the documents back in 2025 – because he predicts he’ll be president again, and therefore regain unfettered access to the government’s most-sensitive secrets,” Rolling Stone reported.
The Legal Argument
Since being charged with 37 counts related to the classified documents, Trump and his team have argued that his behavior was legal thanks to the Presidential Records Act.
Several lawyers have argued that Trump is indeed entitled to the documents being returned to him under 44 U.S. Code Section 2205(3), which holds that “Presidential records of a former President shall be available to such former President or the former President’s designated representative.”
But Rolling Stone, who decided Trump was guilty of something, as far back as 2015, asserts that classification rules experts disagree with the lawyers arguing Trump’s perspective. “Whatever one might say about his Presidential Records Act argument, there’s no argument that it immunizes him from criminal prosecution under the Espionage Act,” said former CIA lawyer Brian Greer.
Let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge that liberals are looking to CIA lawyers to uphold the Espionage Act. The left is supposed to despise the CIA, which has spent decades botching operations, often with nefarious tactics. And the left is supposed to despise the Espionage Act, which has been used to suppress free speech and freedom of the press since the law was enacted one hundred years ago and promptly used to discourage public dissent against World War One. But now you’ve got Rolling Stone gleefully citing CIA attorneys and the Espionage Act. My point is Trump has completely fried the liberal moral compass. Trump has become this white whale that must be got no matter what, even if getting him means relying on statutes, organizations, and rhetoric that was once anathema to the liberal worldview.
I can’t speak to the strength of Trump’s legal argument. I can say that Trump had, when president, the legal authority to unilaterally declassify documents. And I can say that classified documents are usually dealt with in administrative terms, not legal terms.
Lastly, I’ll point out that Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have had classified document slip-ups. When Clinton was revealed to have been using a private e-mail server to conduct sensitive business in her official capacity as Secretary of State, and Trump invited his fans to chant ‘Lock Her Up,’ liberals were pretty dismissive of whether mishandling classified materials constituted a serious offense (ditto, Trump has inverted his position).
Biden, meanwhile, currently under investigation, is being commended for cooperating with authorities after it was discovered he had classified documents in his possession – in various and unsecured locations. But cooperation after the fact is not really the rub of a classified documents violation, is it? The rub is the violation itself.
What I’m getting at is that Trump’s prosecution for mishandling classified documents is not only hypocritical but likely sets a dangerous precedent.
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.