You know you’re having a bad week when the Fox News interview positioned as your triumphant rebuttal makes you look somehow more guilty, and less tethered to reality. Such was the case last Wednesday night, however, when former President Donald Trump sat down across from staunch Fox News ally Sean Hannity — and proceeded to say some truly unhinged things. With Hannity showing off a poker face that would make a Las Vegas high roller weep, Trump proceeded to argue that he could maybe declassify documents with his mind, and speculated that the FBI could have been searching for a cache of Hillary Clinton’s emails at his Mar-a-Lago club. Or at least, that "a lot of people" were suggesting that scenario.
The Hannity debacle was a clear lowlight, but it was far from alone. Backing up a few days, Trump spent last weekend in Ohio theoretically plugging Senate candidate J.D. Vance, but also playing footsy with QAnon.
On Monday, Trump’s most telegenic and hilarious lawyer, Eric Hirschmann, burst back into the news after The New York Times reported he had warned Trump to return any classified material he may have transported from Washington to Florida. Hirschmann, who became an inadvertent star of the Jan. 6 hearings for telling the committee, “I said to him, 'Are you out of your effing mind?'" had “sought to impress upon Mr. Trump the seriousness of the issue and the potential for investigations and legal exposure if he did not return the documents, particularly any classified material,” according to Maggie Haberman’s sources. And why does this new nugget matter? Because it suggests Trump knew he was taking documents he didn’t have the right to take. It speaks to culpability and intent.
And the week was just getting started. Two days later, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced a civil suit against the New York mogul and his three eldest adult children. While not a criminal case, James is hoping to ban Trump from buying commercial real estate in New York for five years and banning the former president and his family from leading any New York business, ever. She’s also pushing for $250 million in penalties, a not insignificant sum — even for a man with a 24-carat gold front door.
(Meanwhile, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation keeps chugging sluggishly along. James said on Wednesday that her office would be “referring those criminal violations that we have uncovered to the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York and the Internal Revenue Service.” Let’s see if the U.S. attorney does what Bragg seems unable to do. Or perhaps, as with Al Capone, it will be the IRS that finally brings down the man no one else could.)
But at least, Trump may have thought, the Mar-a-Lago special master debacle is still going OK? After all, Judge Aileen Cannon had so far been letting Trump’s lawyers get away with the most errant nonsense, including appointing a special master in a case where many legal experts believed none was required. But even this mildly bright spot faded on Wednesday evening, when a three-judge panel on the 11th Circuit ruled unanimously in favor of the Justice Department, saying, “For our part, we cannot discern why [Trump] would have an individual interest in or need for any of the one-hundred documents with classification markings.” The judges accused the lower court of having “abused its discretion in exercising jurisdiction ... as it concerns the classified documents.” Two of those three judges were Trump appointees.
With the proverbial ink barely dry Wednesday's Letitia James and 11th Circuit news, Trump made the exceedingly on-brand decision to keep his scheduled 9 p.m. EST appearance with Fox News host Sean Hannity and go on the offensive. Trump told Hannity, “Different people say different things but as I understand it, if you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying it’s declassified, even by thinking about it.” Trump has long been a fan of this rather Nixonian presidential powers fantasy, but his belief in psychic presidential powers is a newer development.
Less surprisingly, Trump suggested that the FBI might have planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago. But then he pivoted (again). “Were they looking for the Hillary Clinton emails that were deleted,” Trump mused on live television. A surprised Hannity scrambled to follow up. Was the former president somehow in possession of Clinton's emails? No, Trump demurred, he was merely passing along the latest FBI conspiracy scuttlebutt. Just like any other concerned American citizen.
We don’t know what will happen next. Trump has endured a lot of bad weeks. And yet he’s still here, teasing a 2024 presidential run, playing wannabe GOP kingmaker and promoting terrifying QAnon memes and videos.
It sure seems like Trump can’t continue on like this. But then I’ve thought that before.