Inside Trump's Public Arrogance And Private Opposition To Mar-a-Lago Documents
Washington Soon after the National Archives announced in February that it had recovered 15 boxes of presidential records inside Trump's public arrogance and private opposition to Mar-a-Lago documents in Florida, Trump began receiving phone calls from Tom Fitton, a prominent conservative activist.
According to three sources familiar with the matter, Fitton, the longtime head of the legal activist group Judicial Watch, had a simple message for Trump: it was a mistake to give the records to the Archives, and his team should never have let the Archives "strong-arm" him into returning them.
NYT: Trump Had More Than 300 Classified Documents At Mar-a-Lago
Fitton argued that those records belonged to Trump, citing a 2012 court case involving his organization that he claimed gave the former President authority to do whatever he wanted with records from his own presidency.
COPYRIGHT_WI: Published on https://washingtonindependent.com/ebv/inside-trumps-public-arrogance-and-private-opposition-to-mar-a-lago-documents/ by Rhyley Carney on 2022-08-26T06:51:33.218Z
According to sources with knowledge of their conversations, the president of Judicial Watch advised Trump that if the Archives returned, he should not turn over any additional records.
While Trump continued to publicly tout his cooperation with the Archives, according to people with knowledge of his behavior at the time, the former President began obsessing over Fitton's arguments, complaining to aides about the 15 boxes that were handed over and becoming increasingly convinced that he should have full control over records that remained at Mar-a-Lago.
According to a person familiar with the situation, Trump even asked Fitton to brief his attorneys at one point.
"Once Tom got into the boss' ear, it was all downhill from there," said a source close to the former President, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Fitton would not confirm or deny having conversations with Trump over the phone, but he did say on social media and television that Trump had the right to keep the documents he took with him at the end of his presidency because they were inherently personal.
Trump's interactions with Fitton shed new light on his evolving - and frequently contradictory - attitude toward the Archives dating back to before he even left office, as well as his recent reluctance to hand over more documents after initially handing over 15 boxes in January.
While working behind the scenes with Fitton, Trump maintained publicly that he was cooperating with government officials.
Trump did not stonewall the government completely, as Fitton had advised, turning over some information in June following a meeting between his lawyers and federal investigators at Mar-a-Lago.
However, after a Trump lawyer claimed that all classified material had been provided, investigators discovered evidence indicating that this was not the case, prompting the August 8 search.
A similar disconnect has emerged between Trump's private and public reactions to the FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago resort.
Trump and his allies have publicly celebrated the surge in Republican enthusiasm and fundraising, with the former President portraying himself as a victim of the "deep state."
Some in Trump's circle have even suggested that an indictment would give Trump a political boost as he considers another presidential run.
However, the former President and his allies have grown increasingly concerned in private.
According to a source close to the former President, Trump has asked members of his inner circle about a possible indictment.
Another adviser acknowledged that, while Trump has certainly been in legal trouble before, including while president, this appears to be different and potentially more dangerous, especially given that the former President no longer has the legal protections afforded to the executive office.
Trump's spokesperson did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Trump's legal team's actions since the FBI's investigation, including a legal filing seeking a "special master" that a judge found problematic and ordered the team to clarify by Friday, have only fueled questions about Trump's strategy as his legal woes have grown worse.
Trump's team appears to be preoccupied with the public relations battle – and Trump's political prospects.
While Trump has publicly demanded the release of the affidavit justifying the search of his home, his lawyers have yet to file any legal action to obtain it.
Meanwhile, Fitton's conservative Judicial Watch has filed a motion to unseal the affidavit.
Judicial Watch frequently uses litigation to try to pry loose government activity and records.
CNN has followed suit, as have other news organizations such as The Washington Post, NBC News, and Scripps.
When federal agents arrived at Trump's oceanfront estate on August 8, it had been more than a year since Archives officials first began asking the former President's representatives to return various materials removed from the White House and taken to Mar-a-Lago.
Trump's correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was among them.
During the lengthy negotiations, a senior Archives official directed Scott Gast, a former White House counsel's office lawyer who had been appointed to coordinate with the National Archives, to send the letters via FedEx's overnight service.
The official wrote to Gast and others in a June 2021 email obtained by CNN:
Please let me know before you mail it and then pass along the tracking code once it has been sent. I need to make sure I have staff on this end to receive the package.
It took the Archives seven months to finally receive the Kim letters. According to the Archives, they were contained in the 15 boxes that Trump aides allowed Archives officials to arrange for pick up from Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, which contained 700 pages of classified documents.
According to sources close to the former President, his willingness to cooperate with the Archives and, eventually, federal investigators deteriorated once Fitton became a familiar voice within his orbit.
Fitton told Trump that he had case law on his side because of his own failed attempt a decade ago to gain access to records from former President Bill Clinton's tenure.
Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit in 2012, requesting that the Archives designate audio recordings made by then-President Clinton with a historian named Taylor Branch as presidential records.
They would be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests if they did so.
A judge eventually dismissed the suit, writing that NARA "does not have the authority to designate materials as 'presidential records'" and "lacks any right, duty or means to seize control of them."
Despite the fact that the Clinton case did not involve classified records, Fitton believes his case proves Trump has the right to keep his records.
I have been quite clear that President Trump is being abused here and the Justice Department has changed its position that they had in the Clinton case," Fitton told CNN. After the 15 boxes were returned, "I noted at the time that it was at odds with the position of the Justice Department in the Clinton-Taylor Branch case.
Even people close to the former President have privately questioned the competence of his legal team, particularly Christina Bobb, the former One America News Network TV host who has become one of Trump's legal team's faces in the aftermath of the Mar-a-Lago search.
Bobb has spread a slew of conspiracy theories about the Mar-a-Lago search in recent appearances on conservative media, including the baseless claim that the FBI planted evidence while on Trump's property.
Bobb previously worked behind the scenes with Rudy Giuliani to overturn the 2020 election results.
After the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, she signed the warrant receipts. Bobb did not respond to a comment request.
Trump challenges FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago
Last week, Fox News host Laura Ingraham, a vocal supporter of Trump on her show, chastised Bobb over Trump's legal team's decision not to file or join any motions related to the release of the federal affidavit used to justify the search warrant.
Ingraham inquired of Bobb: Are you not concerned that by not joining any of these motions for the full release of this affidavit, you are waiving any later objections to the way redactions are done by the Justice Department?
Bobb responded that the team would wait and see what happened with the affidavit's unsealing.
It took two weeks for Trump's lawyers to formally intervene in the legal battle over the search warrant.
When they finally did on Monday, their motion contained numerous legal flaws and was criticized by legal experts on both sides of the aisle.
The motion was filed in a separate case, before a judge other than Florida Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who approved the search warrant. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon gave Trump's legal team until Friday to refine their legal arguments as part of their request for a "special master" - a third-party attorney - to oversee the review of evidence obtained during the search.
While Trump's legal team has not filed any motions to unseal the affidavit, Trump and his legal team have publicly argued that it should be made public.
Reinhart ruled on Thursday that the Justice Department must release a redacted version of the affidavit by noon on Friday.
Another Trump lawyer, Alina Habba, suggested on TV Tuesday that the former President wants the DOJ to release the names of the witnesses who assisted in obtaining the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago, which would be included in the affidavit and, according to government attorneys, could chill future witness cooperation.
Habba said on conservative network Newsmax:
The president's position is the same as what I would advise him, which is to ask (the DOJ) to uncover everything so we can see what's going on. I understand the witness protection issue, but at the same time, these witnesses are truly not going to be concealed for very long. That's just not the nature of the DOJ and the FBI, and unfortunately in our country there's always leaks.
In addition to Bobb and Habba, Trump is represented by Evan Corcoran, an attorney who previously represented former Trump aide Steven Bannon, and Lindsey Halligan, a Florida-based attorney with a background in insurance litigation.
Trump has also hired Jim Trusty, a former assistant US attorney and Justice Department prosecutor widely regarded as the most capable member of his team.
As they attempted to undermine the federal investigation, Trump's team and allies advanced new theories that quickly wilted under scrutiny.
One of Trump's designees to the Archives, John Solomon, read a statement from Trump's team claiming Trump had a "standing order" to declassify documents he took from the Oval Office to the White House residence, which 18 former administration officials told CNN was patently false.
Others have suggested that the documents sent to Mar-a-Lago were handled by the General Services Administration, a small government agency that assists with presidential transitions.
According to the GSA, the outgoing president and staff are solely responsible for what is moved when a president leaves office.
Trump's advisers have made it clear that they want this to be a political fight rather than a legal one.
Solomon published a letter sent by the National Archives to Trump's legal team in May on Monday night.
The letter stated unequivocally that the Archives had retrieved more than 100 classified documents totaling more than 700 pages, including some classified at the highest levels.
Elie Honig, a former Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of New York and a CNN legal analyst said:
It shows that Donald Trump and his team knew...they were in possession of large amounts of highly classified information. This letter makes clear [Trump's team] was delaying.
While many legal experts agreed that the letter was damning to Trump, the former President seemed to see it as a political victory, claiming that it proved he was the victim of a "witch hunt."
Trump has cited the letter's mention of communications between the Archives and the Biden White House over privilege issues, after the White House counsel's office was consulted about granting the FBI access to the boxes taken from Mar-a-Lago.
That had nothing to do with the search warrant.
The narrative has been picked up and amplified by Trump's allies in conservative media.
Conservative personality Dan Bongino said on his program:
The letter revealed that Joe Biden empowered the National Archives to waive any claims to executive privilege Trump might assert to block the DOJ from gaining access to the documents
However, Trump and his allies have conflated the executive privilege questions raised by the documents Trump handed over to the Archives with the FBI's search warrant, which the Biden White House claims it was unaware of.
The White House counsel's office deferred the decision to the archivist, declining to comment on whether the FBI should have been granted access to the documents retrieved from Mar-a-Lago "given the political implications and optics," according to Bradley Moss, a Washington-based national security lawyer.
If anything, the Biden White House went out of its way to not get involved in whether or not this became a truly criminal matter.
Some of Trump's supporters believe the former President is more secure than ever politically.
Trump raised millions of dollars and received an outpouring of support in the days following the FBI investigation, including from potential GOP rivals in a 2024 presidential primary.
One source close to Trump said:
Republican voters are looking at this [search] and saying if they can do this to him, they can do this to anyone. It's exactly where we want them to be.