Trump’s legal team asked a federal judge on Monday to appoint a “special master” to ensure the Justice Department returns all private documents taken from his residence, arguing his constitutional rights were violated.
The request for a special master, an independent legal officer, is not surprising and, in this case, can be accepted. It is a measure that can be used to ensure that legally privileged or other similar documents collected by investigators are not unnecessarily or unfairly incorporated into an ongoing case.
But in many other ways, Trump’s filing, the most concrete and aggressive formal legal action in the case so far, is a classic of its kind. It fits neatly into the former president’s history of using the legal system to delay, distract, distort and politicize the allegations against him, a strategy that has often worked well to spare or defer serious accountability. And it’s also a typical example of how the former president often mixes and matches political and legal strategies when under investigation.
While the motion is a formal legal document, it serves as a political road map outlining how Trump would describe himself as a presidential candidate pursued, he says, for partisan reasons by the Biden administration. It also provides 27 pages of talking points for Trump’s Republican allies and serves to divert attention from the core issues of the case: He illegally and recklessly withheld classified information and government secrets to which he was not entitled and which he could endanger national security as a risk? And did Trump or those around him try to prevent investigators from continuing their pursuit?
The gambit also underscores once again the extraordinarily delicate nature of the investigation and the political sleazy nest that the Justice Department has disturbed in moving forward with the search of Trump’s home. Such an operation at the home of any former president would be a deeply serious task. The involvement of Trump, who is fueling a false grievance about his exit from power, who knows how to turn attempts to hold him to account into fundraising ammunition and who has incited violence, means that the current case is a of the most serious in the world. Modern History of the DOJ. This reality seems to force the department even more to explain and justify its actions and offer the greatest possible transparency to the public.
But it also underscores another truism of Trump’s political career: The mere act of investigating him inevitably exposes the institutions created to constrain presidents and enforce the law to a backlash that leaves them politicized and often illegitimate in the eyes of its millions of people. supporters
Trump loyalists have also sought to discredit probes of the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising. There were new signs Monday that the DOJ’s separate investigation into the events surrounding that day is intensifying as CNN exclusively reported that the department issued a new subpoena to the National Archives, another development that could be problematic for the former president and deepen its legality. swamp
New legal confrontations arise
Trump’s move to escalate the standoff stirs the legal pot ahead of a Thursday deadline for the DOJ to provide the judge in the case with redactions in an underlying sealed affidavit that lays out detailed reasons for the search of the residence of Trump two weeks ago and the material FBI agents expected to find there.
Judge Bruce Reinhart, meanwhile, wrote in an order Monday that he was convinced the facts in the affidavit are “reliable” and that while he understood the calls for transparency, he agreed that the Justice Department has genuine reasons, including the need to protect witnesses. , to stop the disclosure of document information.
The ostensible purpose of Trump’s filing is to secure the appointment of a special master in the case. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said the request seemed fair under the circumstances.
“I think Donald Trump has a pretty good chance of winning,” Honig said Monday on “The Lead with Jake Tapper.” “It’s a reasonable request. It’s actually not unprecedented.”
If material is discovered that is subject to attorney-client privilege or executive privilege, the special master could ensure that it is not passed on to prosecutors.
Still, the move could also be seen as a way to delay the case against Trump and push it further into the campaign season, ahead of November’s midterm elections and the already heated 2024 presidential race, and facilitate it to the former president. to reinforce the impression that he is being targeted for political reasons. On the other hand, the government has had the documents for two weeks and the former president’s legal team has not yet made this request.
Parts of the motion presented by Trump’s team on Monday had all the hallmarks of a document prepared for or with the former president’s predilections in mind. It was much more animated than a typically dry legal motion. At times it seemed like an attempt to troll the legal system and even took a boastful tone when describing Mar-a-Lago, praising it as a “historic landmark” with 58 rooms, 33 bathrooms, on 17 acres and with a name that means “from sea to lake”.
The filing opened with a statement that “politics cannot be allowed to affect the administration of justice,” a statement that came with a lot of skepticism as Trump has often been accused of politicizing the Justice Department. .
He went on to state that “President Donald J. Trump is the clear favorite in the 2024 Republican presidential primary and the 2024 general election if he chooses to run. Beyond that, his endorsement in the midterm primaries of 2022 has been decisive for Republican candidates”.
Trump’s team then put their complaints about the search, which was previously made on social media, into a formal legal framework with the words: “Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans. No it can be used as a weapon for political purposes.”
There is a clear implication in the document that Trump, as a former president or as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, should not have been subjected to this research. If this rule were adopted, it would offer potential impunity to anyone involved in politics. The Trump team’s implicit argument is also consistent with the belief, which he displayed throughout his presidency, that he had a special status that made him immune from the law’s broadly understood limitations.
Trump uses the legal case to seek political opportunities
In legal terms, the search of his residence could be disastrous for the former president if he is found to have broken laws, particularly regarding the handling of the most sensitive national security material. It is not possible to tell from the limited material publicly available how any case against him might turn out. But Trump has left little doubt that he sees the search as a massive political opportunity. And he has seized the moment to effectively force potential GOP presidential primary rivals to get behind him and condemn it.
As Trump has done throughout his time in politics, his team’s legal filing appeared to take considerable liberties with the facts of the FBI investigation and the process that led to it. He blamed the office’s “shockingly aggressive fashion” which he said came “without understanding the distress it would cause most Americans.” This middle line is characteristically Trumpian exaggeration.
The document goes on to argue that the former president provided extraordinary and cordial cooperation with the National Archives and the FBI. But it also overlooks the fact that the search went ahead on the basis of a warrant approved by the judge on the basis that a crime was likely to have been committed.
The filing’s arguments also appear to conflict with other publicly known aspects of the government’s approach, including requests from the National Archives for the return of documents, DOJ involvement, a subpoena served on Trump because of the material and the fact that agents still didn’t get what they wanted when they visited the former president at the property before seeking a search warrant. Not to mention that, according to CNN and New York Times reports, a Trump lawyer told investigators in writing that no classified records were left at Mar-a-Lago after June. The FBI said in an inventory list at the end of its search that additional classified documents have been recovered.
The motion also contains another Trump classic.
It reveals that on August 11, 2022, Trump’s lawyer spoke with one of the top officials in the case, Jay Bratt, the head of the counterintelligence section of the DOJ’s national security division. The message was intended for Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“President Trump wants the attorney general to know he’s been hearing from people across the country about the attack. If there was one word to describe his mood, it’s ‘angry.'” The heat is building. The pressure is building. Whatever you can do to reduce the heat, to reduce the pressure, just let us know.”
This claim is notable since it was Trump who announced the search of his compound. And he used his social media network to start a backlash among his followers and to deliver a political dividend.
The message appears as an implicit threat — about the consequences of investigating the former president — that is chilling after the January 6 insurrection. The approach is also reminiscent of Trump’s previous efforts to contact and possibly influence authorities investigating him. His attempt to co-opt former FBI Director James Comey during the Russia investigation, who he later fired, comes to mind.
Trump’s new lawsuit could advance some of his legal goals, such as they are. But it is a reminder of the legal and political ordeal facing the country with an investigation into a combative and angry former president who is also showing every sign of weaponizing his 2024 election bid.