Our most recent book, Divided We Stand, looks at the 2020 election and Trump's disregard for law. According to a federal indictment, he jeopardized national security by illegally retaining government documents, and then obstructed efforts to get them back.
All the razzle-dazzle about Trump’s supposed rights under the Presidential Records Act is a sideshow. At its core, this is an obstruction case. Trump would not have been indicted just for taking the documents in the first place. Nor would he have been indicted even if he delayed returning them for a period while arguing about it.
What got Trump criminally charged was his deceit and obstruction in responding to the grand jury subpoena served in May 2022 after he had stymied the government for a year.
That subpoena sought all documents in Trump’s possession that were marked as classified. If Trump truly thought he had a solid basis for keeping those documents, there were easy and obvious ways he could have lawfully raised those arguments at the time. Among other things, he could have taken legal action to quash the subpoena or have a court declare his right to keep them.
He did not do any of that.
Instead, the indictment alleges, he led the government to believe he was complying with the subpoena, telling the DOJ he was an “open book.” At the same time, he told his own lawyer it would be “better” to tell the DOJ there were no such documents and suggested his lawyer pluck out any “really bad” ones before giving anything to the government. Why would Trump say these things to his lawyer if he really thought he had a good legal basis for keeping all the documents?
But the pivotal fact—and what ultimately led the DOJ to charge Trump—was the department’s conclusion that Trump personally engaged in an outrageous course of deception to obstruct the grand jury’s inquiry. The indictment alleges in great detail that (1) Trump led his lawyer to believe that he would be allowed to conduct a complete search of all the boxes that could contain the relevant documents; (2) Trump then arranged, without the lawyer’s knowledge, for a large number of the relevant boxes to be removed from the room to be searched, thus preventing a complete search; and (3) Trump then caused his attorney to file a false statement with the court saying he conducted a complete search.
If true—and many key facts come from Trump’s own lawyer—this was brazen criminal conduct that cannot be justified in any way.