Donald Trump is No Legal Scholar – There is no denying that former President Donald Trump thinks highly of himself. He’s claimed to be a successful businessman who is a solid negotiator. That may be debatable, but one thing that Trump isn’t is a lawyer.
His understanding of federal law seems to be almost solely based on his opinions. If Donald Trump believes it to be true – it must be true. This was noted by legal experts and scholars who responded to the former president fabricated a law that he claimed provided him the “absolute and unquestioned right” to take any documents when they leave office.
During a speech at the Turning Point Action conference in West Palm Beach on Saturday, Trump addressed his classified documents indictment and made the dubious claim, “whatever documents a president decides to take with him, he has the absolute and unquestioned right to do so.”
Trump didn’t stop there. Though he didn’t actually cite any legislation, he added, “This was a law that was passed and signed. And it couldn’t be more clear.”
What could be even “clearer” is that legal experts quickly rejected Trump’s claim – taking to social media.
“Nope. No such law exists. Period,” tweeted Harvard legal scholar Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw).
National security lawyer Bradley Moss (@BradMossEsq) also jumped on Trump’s claim, writing, “This isn’t a legitimate legal argument. It’ll fail in court. It’s a political talking point. That’s all.”
The Presidential Records Act and Donald Trump
Though former President Trump has made similar claims in the past – and last month argued that a president leaving office has the “absolute right to keep [documents] or he can give them back to NARA if he wants” – this is actually contrary to the Presidential Records Act (PRA).
Though Trump has actually cited the PRA in his defense, the law states the exact opposite.
The 1978 law requires records created by presidents and vice presidents to be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
According to NARA, the PRA “Establishes public ownership of all Presidential records and defines the term Presidential records” and “Requires that the President and his staff take all practical steps to file personal records separately from Presidential records.”
Most importantly, the PRA “Establishes that Presidential records automatically transfer into the legal custody of the Archivist as soon as the President leaves office.”
Moreover, as The Huffington Post reported, Trump has also tried to argue that the PRA is a defense against charges that he violated the Espionage Act by mishandling national security information.
Another legal expert quickly dismissed that as well.
“Trump isn’t charged with any violations of the Presidential Records Act,” former Assistant U.S. Attorney William “Widge” Devaney told Salon last month. “Trump is charged with having secret and top secret information, refusing to turn it over, obstructing the government’s attempts to turn it over and causing people to lie about those records. I mean, it’s really apples and oranges.”
Perhaps Trump’s actual understanding of the law can explain why he is facing so many lawsuits.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.