Another Trump mystery: Why did he resist turning over government documents?

For four years, former President Donald J. Trump treated the federal government and the political apparatus that operated on his behalf as an extension of his private real estate company.

It all belonged to him, he felt, merged into a Trump brand he had been cultivating for decades.

“My generals,” he said repeatedly of the active and retired military leaders who filled his government. “My money,” he often called the money he raised from his campaign or for the Republican National Committee. “My Kevin,” he said of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader.

And the White House documents?

“They’re mine,” said three of Mr. Trump who repeatedly claimed when he was urged to return boxes of documents, some of them highly classified, that the National Archives was looking for that Mr. Trump took them with him to Mar. a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, Florida, in January 2021. A nearly 18-month back-and-forth between the administration and Mr. Trump ended with an extraordinary FBI search for documents in Mar-a-Lago. last week.

The question, as with many other things surrounding Mr. Trump, is that why? Why did he insist on refusing to hand over government papers that by law did not belong to him, igniting another legal conflagration? As with many other things related to Mr. Trump, there is no easy answer.

These are the main possibilities.

Mr Trump, a pack rat who for decades displayed items in his Trump Tower office, including a giant shoe that once belonged to basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, treated the nation’s secrets like trinkets similar to brandishing. White House aides described his eagerness to show all the material he had access to, including letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, which he routinely waved at visitors, alarming his advisers.

Some of those letters were among the treasure Mr. Trump had with him at Mar-a-Lago.

The former president’s passion for intelligence began early. In May 2017, Mr Trump released classified information provided by Israel during a meeting with two senior Russian government officials, horrifying his national security team.

Two years later, when his intelligence reports showed him a sophisticated and sensitive photo of a failed Iranian rocket launch, Mr Trump was pleased. “I want to tweet this,” he told the CIA director, the national security adviser and the director of national intelligence, according to a person with direct knowledge of the event.

Efforts by previous administrations to avoid conflicts of interest in the presidency were derided by Mr. Trump, who never dissociated himself from his company and kept an eye on its properties, even though he said publicly that he had turned over all management to his children.

Mr. Trump embodied Louis XIV’s phrase “L’état, c’est moi,” or “I am the state,” his own advisers and several outside observers said.

“From my own experiences with him, which is reinforced by those around him speaking in his defense, his actions seem to fit the pattern that as ‘king’, he and the state are one and the same said Mark S. Zaid, a lawyer who frequently handles cases involving national security and security clearances, even during Trump’s presidency. “He seems to honestly believe that everything he touches belongs to him, and that includes government documents that could be classified.”

The Trump investigations

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The Trump investigations

Numerous queries. Since leaving office, former President Donald J. Trump has faced multiple civil and criminal investigations into his business and political activities. Here are some notable cases:

The Trump investigations

January 6 investigations. In a series of public hearings, the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack laid out a full narrative of Mr. Trump to nullify the 2020 election. That evidence could allow federal prosecutors, who are conducting a parallel criminal investigation, to indict Mr. Trump.

The Trump investigations

Georgia election interference case. Fani T. Willis, the district attorney for the Atlanta area, has led a wide-ranging criminal investigation into the efforts of Mr. Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election defeat in Georgia. This case could pose the most immediate legal danger for the former president and his associates.

The Trump investigations

New York State Civil Investigation. Letitia James, the New York attorney general, has been conducting a civil investigation into Mr Trump and his family business. The case centers on whether the statements of Mr. Trump about the value of his assets were part of a pattern of fraud or were simply Trumpian display.

Mr. Trump rarely used a Twitter handle assigned to the president, @POTUS, preferring instead to have his chief digital officer, Dan Scavino, promote what he had under his own name.

The former president also regularly rejected any attempt to try to enforce rules, regulations or rules outside the White House, maintaining that his close advisers have absolute immunity from some congressional subpoenas.

“Presidents are not kings,” wrote Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as a federal court judge in Washington in 2019, when over White House objections he ordered Donald F. McGahn II, Trump’s former White House lawyer , to testify about what House Democrats said. it was a pattern of presidential obstruction of justice. He added: “They have no subjects, bound by loyalty or blood, whose fate they have a right to control.”

While Trump White House officials were warned about the proper handling of sensitive material, aides said Trump had little interest in the security of government documents or protocols to keep them protected.

At first, Mr. Trump became known among his staff as a hoarder who would dump all kinds of paper — sensitive material, news clippings and various other items — into cardboard boxes that a valet or other personal assistant would bring with him. wherever he went

Mr. Trump had repeatedly sent material to the White House residence, and it was not always clear what happened to it. He sometimes asked to keep the material after his intelligence briefings, but aides said he was so uninterested in the documentation during the briefings that they never understood what he wanted it for.

He also had a habit of tearing up paper, from ordinary documents to classified material, and leaving the pieces scattered on the floor or in a trash can. Officials would have to shuffle the pieces and glue them back together to recreate the documents in order to store them as required by the Presidential Records Act.

On some occasions, Mr. Trump tore up documents — some with his handwriting — and flushed the pieces down a toilet, which occasionally clogged the White House pipes. He did the same on at least two trips abroad, former officials said.

Key developments in the investigations into the former president and his allies.

Outside the White House, secure rooms where Mr Trump could review sensitive documents were set up at both Mar-a-Lago and the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, NJ, although he did not always use them.

Mr. Trump was meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Mar-a-Lago in early 2017, for example, when North Korea launched a missile test. Instead of retreating to a safe room, Mr Trump and his advisers reviewed the security documents outdoors in the courtyard, using an iPhone flashlight. Paying members and their guests watched the show, took photos and posted them on social media.

“No other president has ever lived in a hotel,” said John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s third national security adviser. trump

Over time, Mr. Trump faced the barricades that people tried to put on him, especially his second White House chief of staff, John F. Kelly, who tried to impose a more rigid system for classified information.

Mr. Trump, Bolton said, never told him he planned to take a document and use it for anything beyond its memorabilia value.

It was “kind of whatever he wants to grab for whatever reason,” Mr. Bolton. “He may not even fully appreciate” precisely why he did certain things.

But officials were worried, especially about the documents falling into the wrong hands.

Other advisers questioned whether Mr Trump kept some of the documents because they contained details about people he knew.

Among the items presidents receive on foreign trips are biographies of foreign leaders, a former administration official said. One version is unrated and pretty routine. But the other is classified and may contain a lot of personal data.

One of the files the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago was marked “information re: President of France,” about Emmanuel Macron.

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