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 the wake of the FBI’s search at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Republican allies have come up with a wide variety of defenses, none of which have proven effective. But among the most frequently referenced talking points is that the former president may not have been personally responsible for bringing highly classified materials to his glorified country club.
After all, the argument goes, Trump was busy with his coup in early January 2021. It’s not as if he had time to personally review secret documents, picking and choosing which ones he intended to abscond with on his way out the door.
Part of the problem with this defense is that it doesn’t explain why the Republican kept the highly classified materials after officials practically begged the former president to follow the law. But just as important is what we’re learning about Trump’s direct, personal and hands-on role in the larger process.
The New York Times reported this week, for example, that late last year, under pressure to return the secrets he wasn’t supposed to have, Trump “went through the boxes himself,” deciding which classified materials he felt most entitled to, federal laws and national security interests be damned. The Washington Post published a related report overnight:
As the fight with the Archives came to an uneasy conclusion, the FBI proceeded with interviews with others in Trump’s orbit, including valets and former White House staffers, people familiar with the interviews said. Agents were told that Trump was a pack rat who had been personally overseeing his collection of White House records since even before leaving Washington and had been reluctant to return anything.
The Post’s report, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, added that when it came to managing the boxes of sensitive materials at Mar-a-Lago, Trump “oversaw the process himself — and did so with great secrecy, declining to show some items even to top aides.”
The more the former president took a direct, hands-on role in keeping highly classified materials from the government, the more he’s personally responsible for this intensifying scandal — and the easier it is to dismiss some of the talking points his allies have peddled in desperation.
What’s more, this wasn’t the only revelation of note in the Post’s latest reporting.
These were highly meaningful secrets: “Some material recovered in the search is considered extraordinarily sensitive,” the article added, “two people familiar with the search said, because it could reveal carefully guarded secrets about U.S. intelligence-gathering methods. One of them said the information is ‘among the most sensitive secrets we hold.’”
Trump could’ve cleaned up this mess, but chose not to: “In a legal filing on Monday, Trump’s lawyers insisted that he had been cooperating with Justice Department requests,” the Post added. “In fact, however, the narrative they laid out, as well as other documents and interviews, show that Trump ignored multiple opportunities to quietly resolve the FBI concerns by handing over all classified material in his possession — including a grand jury subpoena that Trump’s team accepted May 11. Again and again, he reacted with a familiar mix of obstinance and outrage, causing some in his orbit to fear he was essentially daring the FBI to come after him.”
Trump’s surprised lawyers: Former White House deputy counsel Pat Philbin and John Eisenberg, another former deputy White House counsel, reportedly told officials they weren’t involved with the original packing of the documents and didn’t know what was in the Mar-a-Lago boxes. The Post added, “The FBI sought to interview Philbin about Trump’s handling of classified material, making him a potential witness in the probe.... Philbin and another adviser who was contacted by the Archives in April have told others that they had not been involved with the process and were surprised by the discovery of classified records.”
If it seems every day, the revelations about this scandal become noticeably more serious, it’s not your imagination.