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Team Trump takes an interest in the ‘Clinton sock drawer case’

Team Trump’s newest court filing referenced the so-called "Clinton sock drawer case," but not in a way that made any sense.


As expected, Donald Trump’s lawyers delivered their latest court filing this morning in the classified documents case, and for the most part it stuck to familiar claims and arguments. There were, however, some notable exceptions.

The point of the filing was straightforward: The former president’s lawyers want a Trump-appointed judge to continue to block the Justice Department from reviewing the classified documents it’s already seized from Mar-a-Lago. This continues to be odd: I’ve never understood why the executive branch should be banned from examining its own classified records, currently in the executive branch’s possession.

The attorneys also claimed that “there still remains a disagreement as to the classification status of the documents” — apparently alluding to one of their client’s more outlandish claims, without actually endorsing his apparent nonsense.

But as NBC News report added, it’d be an overstatement to suggest there was nothing new in the filing.

Trump’s newest filing for the first time refers to what has been called “the Clinton sock drawer case,” a 2012 ruling concerning a former president’s power — in this case, Bill Clinton — to unilaterally decide what is a private record and what is a Presidential Records Act document in his post-presidency.

And what, pray tell is “the Clinton sock drawer case”? I’m glad you asked.

During his White House tenure, Bill Clinton spoke at some length with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Taylor Branch, and as part of the project, there were many recordings of their conversations. According to one 2007 account, tapes were at one point stored in a sock drawer.

A conservative group called Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit, demanding that Clinton be forced to turn over the recordings. In 2012, a federal court rejected the organization’s claims, concluding that the tapes were personal records, not official presidential materials.

In today’s filing, Trump’s lawyers highlighted the controversy as an example of a former president exercising some discretion over what materials would and would not be turned over to the National Archives. If Clinton made such a decision with his records, the argument goes, and that was considered legally permissible by a federal court, then Trump should have similar discretion.

But it’s not nearly that simple. NBC News’ report added, “[U]nmentioned by Trump’s defenders who began raising the issue of the sock drawer case last month is that Jackson’s ruling explicitly states that the Presidential Records Act distinguishes presidential records from ‘personal records,’ defined as documents that are ‘purely private or nonpublic character.’”

In contrast, Trump took highly sensitive national security secrets to his glorified country club. To see the two as comparable is to overlook every relevant detail.

The Justice Department’s latest filing is due later today. Watch this space.