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Why the stunning new evidence in the Mar-a-Lago scandal matters

At this point in the process, it's increasingly obvious that if Trump weren’t Trump, he’d almost certainly already be indicted in the Mar-a-Lago scandal.


In the immediate aftermath of the FBI executing a court-approved search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s allies pushed a highly dubious defense. The former president, they insisted, couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong — the virtuous Republican is, of course, pure as the driven snow — so the public should be furious with out-of-control federal law enforcement.

Two months later, as the details of Trump’s alleged misconduct come into focus, it’s hard not to wonder how those same GOP voices are responding to reports like this one from NBC News.

One of Donald Trump’s employees told FBI agents the former president ordered boxes of documents at Mar-a-Lago to be moved before federal agents searched the property, according to a source familiar with the matter. The source also told NBC News that the FBI obtained security video showing people moving boxes out of a storage room at Trump’s Florida estate.

The report added that, according to a witness account, the former president ordered that the documents be moved after a grand jury subpoena was issued in May.

If you took a law school class, and the professor wanted to provide an example of obstruction of justice, she could do worse than simply pointing at these details.

Indeed, as the controversy has unfolded, one of the more damning elements has been the apparent fact that Trump not only took sensitive materials that didn’t belong to him, but he also resisted calls to return them. This new reporting takes the story to an extraordinary new level: Trump wasn’t just reluctant to cooperate; it also appears he may have directed his team to hide his loot in response to a subpoena and before federal agents showed up at his door.

The Washington Post was first to report this story late yesterday afternoon, and The New York Times had a related report overnight, citing three sources identifying Walt Nauta as the long-serving Trump aide who was seen on security camera footage moving boxes out of a Mar-a-Lago storage room before and after the Justice Department issued a subpoena.

The Times added that federal law enforcement has reportedly interviewed Nauta “on several occasions.”

If all of this reporting is accurate, and the Justice Department has already collected all of this astonishing evidence, it’s difficult to imagine how prosecutors will somehow conclude not to indict the former president.

In fact, at this point in the process, it’s worth emphasizing the unavoidable conclusion that if Trump weren’t Trump, he’d almost certainly already be charged.

In late August, when the Justice Department released an image of classified folders retrieved from Mar-a-Lago, former acting U.S. Solicitor General Neal Katyal wrote, “If this were any normal client, and any normal lawyer, we’d be talking about a plea today.” The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer added, “The photograph of documents emblazoned SECRET removes any ambiguity as to whether Trump was in possession of classified documents. If it were anyone else, they would be prosecuted.”

That was six weeks ago. The evidence now suggests that the former president not only took those materials improperly, he also ordered his team to help hide them in the hopes of circumventing a federal subpoena.

The question isn’t whether there’s a basis for an indictment, it’s whether the will exists at Main Justice to hold Trump accountable.