How Donald Trump’s stubbornness got him in the crosshairs of the FBI’s obstructionist investigation

If stubbornness were a crime, Donald Trump might already be behind bars.

For nearly two years, he has complained about a rigged 2020 election that he claims he won despite Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House.

For five years, he has denied that his successful presidential campaign in 2016 benefited from Russian interference.

It seems like forever since he went after former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for using a private email server to run government business, which he described in 2015 as « a criminal problem ».

Trump’s stubbornness annoys his opponents and energizes his right-wing political base. But this does not violate the law in itself.

Obstruction yes.

And it was Trump’s wrangling and insistence, his streaks and delays over the rightful ownership of documents that fell on his Oval Office that have now brought him into the crosshairs of FBI criminal investigators.

This is the argument an agent made on August 5 to a Florida judge seeking an unprecedented search warrant against a former US president, a warrant that was executed for nine hours on August 8 in Mar-a -Lago, Trump’s Palm. Beach area.

There was probable cause, the investigator swore in an affidavit that was partially unsealed on Friday, to believe the former president was illegally storing classified documents related to US national defense at his home-hotel – in violation of the US espionage law.

« There are also probable reasons to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at the scene, » the investigator wrote.

This part of U.S. criminal law states that a person who alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, conceals, tampers with, or otherwise interferes with the intent of obstructing or influencing an investigation may be fined, maximum prison term of 20 years, or both.

Given the former president’s past meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his contacts with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, it must be said clearly: nothing in the unredacted portions of the search warrant affidavit suggests that Trump was passing classified documents to strangers. governments or entities.

It was more mundane than that, but it marks the moment Trump’s inherent stubbornness came up against allegations of criminal obstruction.

Four months after Trump left the White House, in May 2021, the National Archives and Records Administration became aware of and requested the return of missing documents that should have been in their possession, under the Presidential Records Act.

It took until December 2021 for the files to be identified by Trump and prepared for return to Washington.

National Archives officials examining 15 boxes of documents found newspapers, magazines, photos, notes and presidential correspondence.

But mixed in with these monotonous elements, the historical novelties were « a lot of classified documents », according to the affidavit.

A statement from Trump on February 18, 2022 claimed, “The National Archives found nothing. But that is not at all true, says the affidavit.

The 15 boxes of records were sent to the FBI for examination between May 16 and May 18. Fourteen of the 15 boxes contained classified documents, 184 in all, including some containing handwritten notes from Trump.

Sixty-seven were marked “confidential”. This is the lowest rung of the classification hierarchy, but such recordings are still susceptible to damage in the wrong hands. Ninety-two were marked « secret » or were likely to seriously undermine national security. Twenty-five were “top secret files,” containing information that could cause serious harm to the country.

They included intelligence information obtained from clandestine human sources, through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as well as information that cannot be shared for national security reasons with governments, citizens or foreign entities, the affidavit states.

Lawyers for Trump and the government debated the case for many months, so the negotiations turned into a legal tennis match – a match that Trump’s lawyer insisted was played by different rules.

The National Archives cites chapter and verse from the law to explain their need to retrieve all records both to conduct a criminal investigation and to let intelligence agencies assess the damage caused by the reckless manner in which these sensitive documents were been treated.

Trump lawyers cite a president’s « executive privilege » to do whatever he wants.

As a Trump attorney at the Justice Department wrote, « A president has absolute power to declassify documents. »

There is no evidence, no paper trail – not even an anecdote – that Trump did so before he left office, not with the 184 confidential documents he initially handed over, nor with the loot that agents of the FBI finally picked up Mar-a-Lago when they executed the search warrant on August 8.

Whether Trump even had the authority to unilaterally declassify documents — even as Commander-in-Chief — is a long, complex, and uncertain legal argument that’s probably best summed up by a recent Washington Post headline: « Trump May- does he declassify documents with his mind? Nope. »

Trump’s lawyers would have the public and the courts believe this is much ado about nothing – just more evidence that the former president is being persecuted by his Democratic successors.

In a separate legal motion seeking the return of items seized in the August 8 FBI raid, they describe an utterly agreeable Trump who personally welcomed a team of federal investigators on June 3 with open arms and a spirit of cooperation. .

« Anything you need, » he reportedly said, « let us know. »

Trump’s team said that visit resulted in a simple request from the FBI to better secure a storage room and the installation of a second lock on the door. Mission accomplished.

The unsealed affidavit, however, indicates that Trump was informed in a post-visit letter that his storage room was « not authorized » to hold classified information.

« As such, it appears that since the classified documents were removed from the White House’s secure facilities and transferred to Mar-a-Lago…they have not been handled appropriately or stored in an appropriate location. «

He was ordered to keep the boxes of classified documents « until further notice ».

This was item 61 of the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant.

Points 62 to 69 have been redacted, reduced to black lines which lead to the presumption of the investigators: « There are probable reasons to believe that documents containing classified NDI (national defense information) and presidential files remain in the locals, the residents. »

The belief seems to have been confirmed.

The list of items seized in the raid included 22 boxes, documents marked ‘confidential’, ‘secret’ and ‘top secret’, information about the President of France, binders of photographs, handwritten notes and a clemency executive granted to longtime Trump. partner Roger Stone.

Polls for the 2024 presidential campaign may look good right now for Trump. But the evidence that emerges from the criminal case seems less favorable to him.

At the very least, it would seem that it behooves him to explain why these classified documents needed to be seized by the federal government rather than simply sent by FedEx from Palm Beach to the Presidential Archives where they rightfully belong.

Allan Woods is a reporter in Montreal for the Star. It covers global and domestic affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @WoodsAllan


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