IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

In docs case, Trump falsely claims he was ‘allowed to take’ materials

Chances are, one of Trump’s lawyers has tried to explain the Presidential Records Act to him. If so, he probably should've have paid closer attention.


When Donald Trump sat down with Hugh Hewitt last week, the conservative host asked about some the details surrounding the classified documents scandal. The former president, realizing that he’s under criminal indictment, didn’t seem overly eager to address the subject. “I don’t talk about anything,” the Republican initially said.

Trump did, however, go on to make the case for his perceived innocence. “I’m allowed to do whatever I want,” the former president declared. “I come under the Presidential Records Act. ... I come under the Presidential Records Act. I’m allowed to do everything I did. ... I am totally protected by the Presidential Records Act.”

This week, he sat down with a different conservative media figure, and peddled a similar pitch. The Hill reported:

Megyn Kelly in an interview published Thursday pressed former President Donald Trump over his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House and questioned why Trump would not comply with a subpoena for the sensitive materials.

The SiriusXM host, who used to practice law, was willing to make all kinds of concessions to her guest, including the idea that the criminal cases against him are politically motivated. But Kelly also reminded Trump that he was nevertheless required to comply with subpoenas.

Eventually, the Republican shrugged off the details and declared, “All I know is, I’m allowed to have those documents. ... I have the right to have those documents.”

And where, pray tell, does this “right” come from? “This is all about the Presidential Records Act,” Trump added. “I’m allowed to have these documents. I’m allowed to take these documents — classified or not classified.”

Right off the bat, it’s worth emphasizing that Trump should probably stop saying stuff like this in public. He is, after all, a criminal defendant. After clips from the interview started circulating online, several lawyers predicted that excerpts would be played at his trial — by prosecutors, not defense counsel.

But just as notable is the Republican’s eagerness to reference the Presidential Records Act as some kind of trump card that makes the entire scandal disappear. He’s pushed the line in interviews, and he’s been equally enthusiastic about using his social media platform to push the same talking point.

The repetition hasn’t made a bogus claim true. As a Washington Post analysis explained in April:

Under Trump’s version of reality, the Presidential Records Act (PRA) is an all-purpose security blanket from prosecution for holding onto the documents that NARA says belong to the American people. He suggests that the law gives him unique status to negotiate over which documents he can keep — and that he has acted no differently from any other occupant of the Oval Office. None of this is correct.

What’s more, as my MSNBC colleague Jordan Rubin wrote in July, the Presidential Records Act isn’t even “relevant to the federal indictment charging Trump with violating the Espionage Act and other criminal statutes.”

In all likelihood, someone on Trump’s legal defense team has tried to explain to him how little sense his rhetoric makes, and if so, he probably should've paid closer attention.