WASHINGTON (AP) — A staunch rejection by the federal judge he appointed. Widespread fraud allegations by the New York attorney general. It’s been a week of legal troubles for Donald Trump, revealing the challenges that pile up when the former president operates without the protections afforded by the White House.
The courage that served him well in the political arena is of little use in a legal realm dominated by verifiable evidence, where judges this week cast doubt on his claims and where fraud investigations rooted in Trump’s presidency surfaced. a 222-page state lawsuit filled with accusations.
In politics, “You can say what you want and if people like it, it works. In the legal realm, it’s different,” said Chris Edelson, an American University scholar of presidential powers and professor of government. “This is an arena where there are real consequences for missteps, mistakes, false statements in a way that doesn’t apply to politics.”
The difference between politics and law was evident in a 30-hour period this week.
Trump insisted on Fox News in an interview broadcast Wednesday that the highly classified government records he had at Mar-a-Lago had in fact been declassified, that a president had the power to declassify information “even by thinking about it.”
However, the day before, an independent arbitrator recommended by his own lawyer looked confused when Trump’s team refused to provide any information to support his claim that the documents had been declassified. The special master, Raymond Dearie, a veteran federal judge, said the Trump team tried to “have the cake and eat it” as well, and that, without information to back up the claim, he was likely to think of records as the administration did: Classified.
On Wednesday morning, Letitia James, the attorney general for New York State, accused Trump in a lawsuit of adding to his net worth billions of dollars and usually misleading banks about the value of valuable assets. The lawsuit, the culmination of a three-year investigation that began when he was president, also names three of his adult children and seeks to bar them from running companies again in the state. Trump has denied wrongdoing.
Hours later, three judges at the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit – two of whom were Trump appointees – gave him a shocking loss in the Mar-a-Lago investigation.
The court strongly rejected arguments that he had the right to ask the special masters to conduct an independent review of some 100 classified documents retrieved during an FBI search last month, and said it was unclear why Trump should have “an interest or need” for it. notes.
The ruling paved the way for the Justice Department to continue its use of classified records in its investigations. It lifted the detention placed by lower court judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump official whose ruling on the Mar-a-Lago issue has to date been the only bright spot for the former president. On Thursday, he responded by attacking the part of his order that required the Justice Department to give Dearie, and Trump’s attorneys, access to classified records.
Dearie followed up on his own order, giving the Justice Department until September 26 to submit a written statement certifying that the FBI’s detailed inventory of items retrieved in the search was accurate. The Trump team will have until September 30 to identify any errors or errors in the inventory.
Between Dearie’s position, and the appeals court ruling, “I think basically there might be a growing consensus, if not a developed consensus, that the government has a stronger position on many of these issues and many of these controversies,” said Richard Serafini, an attorney. Florida criminal defense attorney and former Justice Department attorney.
To be sure, Trump is no stranger to courtroom drama, has been ousted in numerous lawsuits throughout his decades-long business career, and he has demonstrated an uncanny capacity to endure seemingly dire situations.
His lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
At the White House, Trump faces a dangerous investigation into whether he has obstructed a Justice Department investigation into possible collusion between Russia and his 2016 campaign. In the end, he was protected at least in part by presidential powers, with special counsel Robert Mueller citing a long-standing departmental policy of prohibiting indictment of the incumbent president.
He was twice impeached by the Democratic-led House of Representatives – once over a phone call with Ukraine’s leader, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, the second time during the January 6, 2021 riots in the Capitol – but was acquitted by the Senate on both occasions thanks to political support from fellow Republicans.
It remains unclear whether any of the current investigations – the Mar-a-Lago one or the investigation related to January 6 or Georgian election interference – will result in criminal charges. And the New York lawsuit is a civil matter.
But there’s no doubt that Trump no longer enjoys the legal protections of the presidency, even though he has repeatedly relied on broad views of executive power to maintain his hold on records that the administration says do not belong to him, regardless of classification.
In particular, the Department of Justice and the federal appeals court paid little attention to his assertion that the records had been declassified. For all his claims on TV and social media, both have noted that Trump did not provide information to support the idea that he was taking any steps to declassify the records.
The appeals court called the declassification question a “red herring” because even declassifying a record would not change its content or convert it from a government document to a private document. And the law the Justice Department cited as the basis of its investigation did not explicitly mention classified information.
Trump’s lawyers have also stopped short of saying in court, or in legal reports, that the records were not classified. They told Dearie that they should not be forced to express their position on the matter now because it could be part of their defense in the event of an indictment.
Even some legal experts who have side with Trump in his legal battle have doubted his assertion.
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who testified as a Republican witness in the first impeachment proceedings in 2019, said he was struck by the former president’s “lack of coherent and consistent position on classified documents.”
“It’s not clear,” he added, “what Jedi lawyers say that you can declassify things with your mind, but the courts are unlikely to accept that claim.”
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