Donald Trump’s new lawsuit over the FBI’s raid on his Florida resort codifies his political fury into legal strategy and implicitly explains how the ex-president intends to use the drama as a springboard for his likely run for president. the White House in 2024.
Trump’s legal team asked a federal judge on Monday to appoint a “special master” to make sure the Justice Department returns all private documents taken from his residence, saying his constitutional rights had been violated.
The request for a special master – an independent judicial officer – is not surprising and may well be granted in such a case. It is a measure that can be used to ensure that legally protected documents or other similar materials collected by investigators are not unnecessarily or unfairly incorporated into an ongoing case.
But in many other ways, Trump’s filing — the most concrete and aggressive formal legal decision in the case to date — is a classic of its kind. It fits right in with the former president’s history of using the justice system to delay, distract, distort and politicize the charges against him, a strategy that has often worked well to spare or defer serious accountability. And it’s also a hallmark example of how the former president often mixes and matches political and legal strategies when he’s under investigation.
Although the motion is a formal legal document, it serves as a political roadmap that outlines how Trump would run as a presidential candidate who he believes is being persecuted for partisan reasons by the Biden administration. It also offers 27 pages of talking points for Trump’s GOP allies and serves to distract from the central questions of the case: Did he illegally and recklessly keep classified information and government secrets to which he is unaware? was not entitled and who could put national security as a risk? And did Trump or his entourage try to prevent the investigators from continuing their pursuit?
The bet also underscores once again the extraordinarily sensitive stakes of the investigation and the political hornet’s nest disturbed by the Justice Department in continuing the search of Trump’s home. Such an operation at the home of any former president would be an extremely serious undertaking. The involvement of Trump – who harbors a false grievance about his exit from power, who knows how to turn attempts to hold him accountable into fundraising ammunition and who has incited violence – means the current case is one of the most serious in modern DOJ history. the story. This reality seems to impose an even greater responsibility on the department to explain and justify its actions and to offer the maximum possible transparency to the public.
But it also underscores another truism of Trump’s political career – even investigating him inevitably exposes the institutions set up to constrain presidents and enforce the law to a backlash that leaves them politicized and often illegitimate in the eyes of the public. its millions of followers. .
Trump loyalists have also attempted to discredit investigations into the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. There were new signs Monday that the DOJ’s separate investigation into the events surrounding that day is intensifying when CNN reported exclusively that the department had issued a new subpoena to the National Archives — another development that could be embarrassing for the former president and deepen his legal quagmire.
Trump’s decision to escalate the confrontation stirs the legal pot ahead of Thursday’s deadline for the DOJ to provide the judge in the case with redactions in an underlying sealed affidavit that sets out detailed reasons for the search of Trump’s residence two weeks ago and the material that FBI agents expected to find there.
Judge Bruce Reinhart, meanwhile, wrote in an order Monday that he was satisfied the facts in the affidavit were “reliable” and that while he understood the calls for transparency, he agreed that the Department of Justice had genuine reasons, including the need to protect witnesses. , to stop disclosing information in the document.
The ostensible purpose of Trump’s dossier is to secure the appointment of a special master in the case. CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said the request seemed on the face of it fair in the circumstances.
“I think Donald Trump has a good chance of winning,” Honig said in “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on Monday. “It’s a reasonable request. It’s actually not unprecedented.
If material subject to solicitor-client privilege or executive privilege is discovered, the special prothonotary could ensure that it is not passed on to prosecutors.
Yet the move could also be seen as a way to delay the case against Trump and push it further into the campaign season — ahead of November’s midterm elections and the already turbulent 2024 presidential race — and facilitate the cementing of the former president. the impression that he is being targeted for political reasons. On the other hand, the government has already had the documents for two weeks and the ex-president’s legal team has not previously made such a request.
Parts of the petition filed by Trump’s team on Monday bore all the hallmarks of a document prepared for or with the ex-president’s predilections in mind. It was much livelier than a typically dry legal motion. It sometimes seemed an attempt to troll the legal system and even took a boastful tone in describing Mar-a-Lago, praising it as a “historic landmark” with 58 bedrooms, 33 bathrooms, on 17 acres and bearing a name that means “from the sea to the lake.
The filing opened with a statement that ‘politics cannot impact the administration of justice’ – a claim that has come with considerable chutzpah since Trump has often been accused in office to politicize the Department of Justice.
He went on to state that “President Donald J. Trump is the clear frontrunner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary and the 2024 general election should he decide to run. Beyond that, his endorsement in the 2022 midterm primaries was a watershed momentum for Republican candidates.
Trump’s team then put their complaints about the search, previously delivered on social media, into a formal legal framework with the words: “Law enforcement is a shield that protects Americans.” It cannot be used as a weapon for political purposes.
There is a clear implication in the document that Trump, as a former president or as a potential 2024 presidential candidate, should not have been subjected to such research. If adopted, this standard would offer potential impunity to anyone involved in politics. The Trump team’s implicit argument is also consistent with the belief, which he has demonstrated throughout his presidency, that he had a special status that shielded him from the widely understood constraints of the law.
On a legal level, the search of his residence could be disastrous for the former president if it turns out that he broke the laws, in particular on the handling of the most sensitive national security material. It is not possible to know from the limited publicly available evidence how a case against him might end. But Trump has left little doubt that he sees the research as a huge political opportunity. And he used the moment to effectively force the main potential GOP presidential rivals to step in behind him and condemn him.
As Trump has done throughout his political career, his team’s legal record appeared to take considerable liberties with the facts of the FBI’s research and the process that led to it. He blamed the bureau’s “incredibly aggressive decision” which he said came with “no understanding of the distress it would cause most Americans.” This half-line is a characteristic Trumpian exaggeration.
The document goes on to claim that the ex-president offered extraordinary and cordial cooperation with the National Archives and the FBI. But he also overlooks the fact that the search took place on the basis of a warrant approved by a judge on the grounds that a probable crime had been committed.
The case’s arguments also appear to conflict with other publicly known aspects of the government’s approach – including National Archives requests for the return of documents, DOJ involvement, a subpoena that has been served on Trump for the material and the fact that officers still haven’t gotten what they wanted when they visited the former president at the property before asking for a search warrant. Not to mention that, according to reports from CNN and The New York Times, a lawyer for Trump told investigators in writing that no classified records were left at Mar-a-Lago after June. The FBI said in an inventory listing at the end of its search that there were other classified documents recovered.
The motion also contains another classic Trump flourish.
It reveals that on August 11, 2022, Trump’s attorney spoke with one of the key figures in the case, Jay Bratt, the head of the counterintelligence section of the DOJ’s National Security Division. . The message was intended for Attorney General Merrick Garland.
“President Trump wants the Attorney General to know that he heard people across the country talking about the raid. If there was one word to describe their mood, it’s “angry.” The heat rises. The pressure is mounting. Whatever I can do to reduce the heat, to lower the pressure, let us know.
This statement is remarkable since it was Trump who announced the search of his resort. And he used his social media network to trigger a backlash among his supporters and deliver a political dividend.
The message appears as an implicit threat – on the consequences of the investigation on the former president – which sent shivers down the spine in the aftermath of the January 6 uprising. The approach is also reminiscent of earlier efforts by Trump to contact, and possibly influence, authorities investigating him. His attempt to co-opt former FBI Director James Comey during the Russia investigation, whom he later fired, comes to mind.
Trump’s new trial may succeed in advancing some of his legal goals – such as they are. But it is a reminder of the legal and political ordeal facing the country with an investigation into a combative and angry former president who is also showing every sign of being militarized to bolster his bid for the 2024 election.