In the world surrounding Donald Trump, Alex Cannon is not a figure with an especially high profile, but it’s a safe bet the former president knows who he is. After all, Cannon started working for the Trump Organization in 2015, and worked for the Republican’s 2016 campaign.
With this in mind, when Trump gave Cannon a directive, he probably expected the order to be followed. As The New York Times reported, that’s not quite what happened earlier this year in the Mar-a-Lago case.
Shortly after turning over 15 boxes of government material to the National Archives in January, former President Donald J. Trump directed a lawyer working for him to tell the archives that he had returned all the documents he had taken from the White House at the end of his presidency, according to two people familiar with the discussion. The lawyer, Alex Cannon, had become a point of contact for officials with the National Archives, who had tried for months to get Mr. Trump to return presidential records that he failed to turn over upon leaving office. Mr. Cannon declined to convey Mr. Trump’s message to the archives because he was not sure if it was true, the people said.
In other words, the former president told one of his lawyers to pass along false information to the National Archives. The lawyer, suspecting that the claim was untrue and reluctant to lie to a federal agency, balked.
We now know, of course, that Cannon’s caution was warranted: Trump maintained extensive records at his glorified country club, some of which were returned in June, and some of which were retrieved by FBI agents who executed a court-approved search warrant in August.
Nevertheless, the attorney who was right was soon punished: The Washington Post reported that Cannon’s refusal to pass along a falsehood “soured his relationship with Trump.” He was “was soon cut out of the documents-related discussions ... as Trump relied on more pugilistic advisers.”
Or put another way, the former president was looking for people who’d be far less concerned about whether they were telling the truth to federal investigators.
Cannon is also, incidentally, one of the people close to Trump who reportedly warned him that the National Archives was serious about retrieving the materials the Republican improperly took, and failing to comply with the process could lead to a criminal investigation. Trump ignored the advice.
For those wondering whether the Justice Department might consider obstruction charges against the Republican, details like these seem especially relevant.
Complicating matters, the Post’s report added that when it came time to return some materials to the Archives, Trump personally “packed the boxes that were returned in January.”
The more the evidence shows the former president had a direct and hands-on role, the less Trump can plausibly blame others in the scandal.
As for attorney Christopher Kise, whom the former president paid $3 million up front to represent him in the Mar-a-Lago case, the Post also reported that he encouraged his client to pursue a more sensible strategy:
Turn down the temperature with the Department of Justice, Kise — a former Florida solicitor general — counseled his famously combative client, people familiar with the deliberations said. Federal authorities had searched Trump’s Florida residence and club because they badly wanted to retrieve the classified documents that remained there even after a federal subpoena, Kise argued, according to these people. With that material back in government hands, maybe prosecutors could be persuaded to resolve the whole issue quietly.
Trump apparently didn’t much care for that advice, and by some accounts, Kise has been sidelined as members of the former president’s team fight amongst themselves.