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DC: U.S. National Archives Building
A general view of the U.S. National Archives building, in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, October 20, 2021.Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP

Team Trump leaks National Archives letter, hurts its own cause

The leak of a May letter from the National Archives to Team Trump about classified documents is a classic example of a political "own goal."


UPDATE (Aug. 26, 2022, 12:44 p.m. ET): The Justice Department on Friday unsealed a partially redacted copy of the FBI affidavit used to obtain a search warrant for former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month. 

In sports, there’s a phenomenon sometimes known as an “own goal.” The basic idea is, there are competing teams, each trying to score a goal against their rival, but sometimes things go horribly awry and a team accidentally helps its rival by scoring a goal against itself. YouTube offers plenty of embarrassing examples highlighting such incidents.

Of course, the phenomenon isn’t limited to sports. In politics, we occasionally see parties, candidates, and politicians with “own goal” problems of their own. Rachel highlighted some memorable examples last year, noting Republican recount efforts, intended to cast doubts on the 2020 presidential election, which ended up showing Donald Trump losing by an even larger margin.

Last night, Team Trump seemed to kick the ball into its own net once again. Politico reported:

The National Archives found more than 700 pages of classified material — including “special access program materials,” some of the most highly classified secrets in government — in 15 boxes recovered from Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in January, according to correspondence between the National Archivist and his legal team.

It was John Solomon, a conservative writer and one of Trump’s authorized Archives liaisons, who published online a May 10 letter from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). As Politico’s report added, the document showed that NARA and federal investigators “had grown increasingly alarmed about potential damage to national security caused by the warehousing of these documents at Mar-a-Lago, as well as by Trump’s resistance to sharing them with the FBI.”

I have no idea why someone from Team Trump would voluntarily show this to the public. It not only bolsters damaging reporting about the Mar-a-Lago scandal, it also makes the former president look worse, not better.

Indeed, the NARA letter confirms that Trump took highly classified national security materials to his glorified country club. It confirms that the Republican’s haul was extensive and wasn’t limited to a handful of documents. It confirms that the National Archives was amazingly accommodating, accepting multiple delays in the hopes that the former president would eventually cooperate and return the secrets he wasn’t supposed to have.

Also notable is what wasn’t mentioned: If Trump had declassified any of the materials, he and his lawyers hadn’t mentioned this to NARA.

It’s possible that this May letter was leaked in the hopes of proving some kind of political interference on the part of the Biden White House, but the document itself points in the opposite direction: The incumbent Democratic president deferred decisions related to executive privilege to NARA and Justice Department lawyers.

Politico’s Kyle Cheney, who called the NARA letter “extraordinarily damning“ for the former president and his team, put together a worthwhile Twitter thread on the developments and highlighted another angle I haven’t seen elsewhere: “Trump has been on notice since at least May of the FBI’s efforts to access this material. So his motion to seek a special master following the execution of the search warrant is months — not just weeks — late.”

If the former president’s critics are fortunate, Team Trump will continue to “help” the Republican with disclosures like these.