After the FBI executed a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump issued a written statement that did not help his cause. After the Justice Department announced plans to unseal the search warrant, the former president issued another statement, which also didn’t help him. After a redacted version of the search warrant affidavit was unsealed, the Republican issued yet another written statement, which managed to make him look worse, not better.
“Terrible the way the FBI, during the Raid of Mar-a-Lago, threw documents haphazardly all over the floor (perhaps pretending it was me that did it!), and then started taking pictures of them for the public to see. Thought they wanted them kept Secret? Lucky I Declassified!”
Some of this is unintentionally funny. After all, the guy complaining about the FBI handling classified materials “haphazardly” is the same guy who, according to federal law enforcement, found “a lot of classified records“ alongside assorted miscellaneous print-outs and newspaper articles in boxes from Mar-a-Lago.
It’s also worth pausing to appreciate the juvenile, “Thought they wanted them kept Secret?” as if federal law enforcement releasing a photograph of cover sheets is dangerous. It’s not. What is dangerous is keeping highly sensitive national security secrets at a glorified country club frequented by spies.
Also note, Trump didn't deny any factual claims from the Justice Department, and made no effort to suggest the evidence was "planted."
Instead, the Republican concluded his pitch with a three-word boast: “Lucky I Declassified!”
To briefly recap, nearly two weeks after the FBI’s search, Team Trump rolled out a new talking point: The former president had declassified the materials in question, and in fact had a “standing order” to that effect. They’d never mentioned any of this before, and they couldn’t substantiate the obviously absurd claim with any evidence, but we were supposed to believe it anyway — and it certainly shouldn’t be seen as a desperate, post-hoc rationalization.
It wasn’t long before some former officials from the Trump White House dismissed the talking point as nonsense, and more importantly, the Justice Department noted in its court filing last night that Trump’s lawyers “never asserted that the former president had declassified the documents.”
It’s an important point. For a year and a half, federal officials have been trying to retrieve the materials the former president took and didn’t want to give back. At no point did Trump or his representatives tell anyone — the National Archives, the Justice Department, et al. — that he’d declassified any of these documents.
Even now, Trump’s own attorneys continue to make relevant legal filings as part of the controversy, and they’re not arguing that he declassified the materials, either.
In other words, the former president isn’t just lying, he’s peddling a lie his lawyers are afraid to echo. Indeed, we’ve seen this dynamic before: After the 2020 election, there was a gap between what Trump would say in public and what his lawyers would say in court. There was no great mystery as to why: Trump knew he could lie to the public with impunity, just as his attorneys knew they had no such luxury when presenting arguments to judges.
What’s more, as The New York Times recently reported, there’s also a disconnect between the underlying claim and the broader controversy, since the relevant criminal statutes operate separately from the executive branch’s system of classifying documents anyway.
Andrew Weissman, a longtime Justice Department veteran and an MSNBC legal analyst, added this morning, “Trump is now sticking to the ‘I declassified everything’ defense. Not the smartest move: making another false statement that is also legally irrelevant is not a way to endear yourself to a jury.”