Much of Donald Trump’s focus of late has been on his hush money scandal in New York, which is understandable given the fact the former president was indicted last week. But a few days before learning of his criminal charges, the Republican sat down with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, and the two had a surprisingly interesting exchange about one of the other investigations Trump is facing.
When the conversation turned to the former president’s classified documents scandal, for example, Trump at one point asked the host, “Do you know that they ended up paying Richard Nixon, I think, $18 million for what he had?” That wasn’t quite right, though it raised a possible new motivation for his alleged misconduct: Maybe Trump refused to return the materials he improperly took because he saw this as another money-making scheme.
But as part of the same interview, Hannity — who has a habit of trying to help coach Trump into saying things that would be helpful to him — tried to steer the former president in a specific direction. Trump, apparently oblivious, ignored the not-so-subtle directions.
“I can’t imagine you ever saying, ‘Bring me some of the boxes that we brought back from the White House, I’d like to look at them.’ Did you ever do that?” the Fox host asked.
“I would have the right to do that,” Trump replied. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
Hannity, still eager to help his pal, again tried to guide the former president in an exculpatory direction. “I know you,” the host said. “I don’t think you would do it.”
Trump disagreed. “Well, I don’t have a lot of time. But I would have the right to do that,” Trump said, before adding, “I would do that.”
The host, apparently realizing that his guest wasn’t picking up on obvious cues, tried to change the subject. Trump wouldn’t let him. “I have the right to take stuff,” the former president said, adding, “I have the right to take stuff. I have the right to look at stuff.”
It was against this backdrop that The Washington Post published a striking new article overnight, reporting that Justice Department and FBI investigators “have amassed fresh evidence” pointing to Trump’s possible obstruction in the Mar-a-Lago case.
In the classified documents case, federal investigators have gathered new and significant evidence that after [the former president and his team received a federal subpoena], Trump looked through the contents of some of the boxes of documents in his home, apparently out of a desire to keep certain things in his possession, the people familiar with the investigation said. Investigators now suspect, based on witness statements, security camera footage, and other documentary evidence, that boxes including classified material were moved from a Mar-a-Lago storage area after the subpoena was served, and that Trump personally examined at least some of those boxes, these people said.
Making matters worse, the Post reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, also noted that federal investigators have “amassed evidence indicating that Trump told others to mislead government officials in early 2022, before the subpoena, when the National Archives and Records Administration was working with the Justice Department to try to recover a wide range of papers.”
He also reportedly “sought advice from other lawyers and advisers on how he could keep documents after being told by some on his team that he could not.”
In a written statement to the Post, a Trump spokesperson denied any wrongdoing.
Stepping back, it’s worth emphasizing that the scandal has never been primarily about the former president’s decision to take White House documents to his glorified country club. To be sure, that was far from ideal, but as we’ve learned, it’s a mistake that others — including President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence — have made.
What pushes Trump’s controversy to a far more serious level is what he did after taking sensitive materials to Mar-a-Lago: The Republican not only refused to return the documents, he also allegedly obstructed the retrieval process, including encouraging those in his orbit to mislead officials.
I realize that last week’s developments were dramatic and historically significant. The United States has never had a former president face criminal charges before, so the indictment from a Manhattan grand jury jolted the political world.
But to assume that the New York indictment will be Trump’s last remains a mistake.