If Donald Trump’s attorneys are trying to play a game of legal chess, they need to realize that their Justice Department rivals keep taking all of their pieces.
In the latest back-and-forth, the Republican and his team last week asked for a special master to review Mar-a-Lago documents by way of a court filing that legal experts found laughable. It led the Justice Department to respond with a brutal filing of its own that cast the former president in an even more scandalous light, and seemed to suggest that he’s facing the very real possibility of a criminal indictment.
As a New York Times analysis explained, “It was as if Mr. Trump, seeming not to fully grasp the potential hazards of his modest legal move, cracked open a door, allowing the Justice Department to push past him and seize the initiative.”
Donald Trump’s legal team on Wednesday renewed its request for a third party to review documents FBI agents seized from his Mar-a-Lago estate, arguing that left to their own devices, “unchecked investigators” would selectively leak bits of their investigation with no recourse for the former president.
It’s worth emphasizing that if the Republican operation is worried about damaging aspects of the investigation reaching the public, Team Trump probably ought to stop taking deliberate steps that require the Justice Department to bring damaging aspects of the investigation to the public.
But even putting this aside, part of what's surprising about the latest filing is how little it says. This was an opportunity for the former president’s attorneys to push back in earnest against devastating allegations involving potential felonies.
But as former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, an MSNBC legal analyst, told Alex Wagner on the air last night, “There is not much new in the document, other than ... some insults hurled at the Justice Department. Some of the things that were in the government’s response, I just don’t think that the Trump team has an answer for.”
Perhaps my favorite part of the latest filing came on the third page, when Team Trump wondered what all the fuss is about.
“The purported justification for the initiation of this criminal probe was the alleged discovery of sensitive information contained within the 15 boxes of Presidential records,” the attorneys wrote. “But this ‘discovery” was to be fully anticipated given the very nature of Presidential records. Simply put, the notion that Presidential records would contain sensitive information should have never been cause for alarm.”
They didn’t appear to be kidding. Sure, the former president took extraordinarily sensitive national security information to his glorified country club. And sure, he refused to give it all back. And sure, we said we’d given it all back, even if we didn’t. And sure, this might’ve created serious risks to U.S. intelligence agencies and their sources.
But isn’t this kinda normal? What’s the “cause for alarm”?
The filing went on to reference a June 3 meeting between Justice Department official Jay Bratt and Trump attorneys Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb. According to the former president’s lawyers, the Justice Department’s description of the meeting has been “significantly mischaracterized” — and as proof, Team Trump pointed to nothing in particular.
U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee and Federalist Society member, has already signaled a willingness to appoint a third-party reviewer, though it’s possible the latest filings will sway her. As things stand, Cannon is set to hear the Justice Department’s arguments at a hearing today in south Florida. Watch this space.