One of the most telling features of the GOP reaction Thursday night to Donald Trump’s latest indictment was how almost nobody actually defended him on the substance.

It was a witch hunt. The Justice Department was “weaponized.” We were now a “banana republic.” This was somehow an effort to distract from the Biden investigations. Virtually none of it even gestured in the direction that, as Trump said repeatedly in his video response, he’s an “innocent man.”

And we woke up Friday to yet another big reminder of why that is.

CNN offered new details on something Washington Post reporting has previously pointed to: that Trump appears to have been actually showing off classified documents after leaving the White House. CNN now has a transcript of a 2021 tape suggesting Trump was doing just that. (The Washington Post has confirmed the details of CNN’s report.)

How this moves the ball forward: It also involves Trump saying, on tape, that at least some of what he had remained classified, despite his highly suspect suggestions that he has declassified it.

Skip to end of carousel

Ongoing investigations involving Donald Trump
Donald Trump says he’s been charged in the classified documents case. It’s the second time he has been indicted since March. Get live updates.
Donald Trump is facing historic legal scrutiny for a former president, under investigation by the Justice Department, district attorneys in Manhattan and Fulton County, Ga., and a state attorney general. He denies wrongdoing. Here is a list of the key investigations and where they stand.
Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation
FBI agents found more than 100 classified documents during a search of Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., on Aug. 8 as part of a criminal probe into possible mishandling of classified information. On June 8, Trump was indicted in the case.
Justice Department criminal probe of Jan. 6
The Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6 riot and whether Trump or his aides may have conspired to obstruct the formal certification in Congress of the election result or committed fraud to block the peaceful transfer of power. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran prosecutor Jack Smith to oversee both this and the Mar-a-Lago investigation.
Georgia election results investigation
Fulton County District Attorney Fani T. Willis (D) is investigating whether Trump and his allies illegally meddled in the 2020 election in Georgia. A Georgia judge on Feb. 15 released parts of a report produced by a special-purpose grand jury, and authorities who are privy to the report will decide whether to ask a new grand jury to vote on criminal charges.
Manhattan district attorney’s investigation
District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) convened a grand jury to evaluate business-related matters involving Trump, including his alleged role in hush-money payments to the adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. On March 30, the grand jury voted to indict Trump, making him the first ex-president to be charged with a crime. Here’s what happens next.
Lawsuit over Trump business practices in New York
Attorney General Letitia James (D) filed a lawsuit Sept. 21 against Trump, three of his children and the Trump Organization, accusing them of flagrantly manipulating the valuations of their properties to get better terms on loans and insurance policies, and to get tax breaks. The litigation is pending.


End of carousel

The quotes from the transcript are remarkable. And they will undoubtedly feature prominently in the case ahead.

While discussing an apparently classified Pentagon document about attacking Iran, Trump offers the money quote, “As president, I could have declassified, but now I can’t.”

CNN reported the tape features the sound of rustling papers, as if Trump is waving around paper.

“All sorts of stuff – pages long, look. Wait a minute, let’s see here. I just found, isn’t that amazing?” Trump said. “This totally wins my case, you know. Except it is like, highly confidential. Secret. This is secret information. Look, look at this. … This was done by the military and given to me.”

The context of the tape is notable. Trump was apparently seeking to rebut a New Yorker story about Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark A. Milley having been concerned about Trump’s desire to launch a military strike against Iran. That would place the conversation in the summer of 2021, after the National Archives had in May contacted Trump’s team about retrieving presidential documents.

It’s likely that Trump’s defense will rest in part on the idea that this was bluster — Trump building up what he had to show off to guests, even if it wasn’t true. Trump’s lawyers reportedly weren’t able to find such a document to turn over.

But this merely adds to a list of revelations that continues to grow rapidly. The Washington Post reported two weeks ago that not only does evidence indicate the boxes of documents were moved inside Mar-a-Lago while all of this was happening, but that two employees moved boxes the day before a June 2022 visit by the FBI. This came after a subpoena for documents had been issued. The Post also reported that Trump and his aides allegedly conducted a “dress rehearsal” for moving sensitive papers before the May subpoena.

In other words, there is tons of evidence that Trump was conscious of what the federal government said he had and possibly that there were deliberate steps taken to hide it. And yet for months and months, he resisted returning it. He was even talking about the idea that he hadn’t declassified it, which could sharply undercut Trump’s upcoming defense.

(Trump’s lawyers have conspicuously declined to echo their client’s public claims on this point, and apparently for good reason.)

Which brings us back to the GOP response on Thursday night. It’s the second major development, along with the Mar-a-Lago search in August, after which Republicans immediately leaped to decry federal law enforcement despite all of us knowing little about the full scale of evidence against Trump.

To the extent some did entertain the idea that such a search could be warranted back then, they pointed to the potential presence of highly sensitive documents. Then we learned that such documents were indeed seized.

That gets to why almost no Republicans are talking about the substance.

Skip to end of carousel

History of investigations involving Donald Trump
In addition to his involvement in more than 4,000 lawsuits over the course of his half-century in real estate, entertainment and politics, Donald Trump has been the subject of investigations by federal, state and regulatory authorities in every decade of his long career.
Federal investigators accuse Trump and his father of discriminating against Black New Yorkers in renting out apartments. Case settles with no admission of guilt, but Trump has to run ads pledging not to discriminate.
Federal investigators look into whether Trump gave apartments in his Trump Tower to organized crime-connected figures to keep his project on track. Trump denies the allegation. Separately, New Jersey officials probe Trump’s ties with mob figures, then grant him a casino license.
New Jersey regulators investigate Trump’s finances and conclude he “cannot be considered financially stable,” yet extend his casino license to protect jobs at his Atlantic City hotel.
Federal securities regulators cite Trump’s casino for downplaying negative results in financial reporting.
New York state sues Trump, alleging his Trump University defrauded more than 5,000 people. Trump is found personally liable. After Trump becomes president, he is impeached — and acquitted — over allegations that he solicited foreign interference in the U.S. presidential election.
Trump is impeached — and acquitted — a second time for incitement of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. New York state sues Trump, alleging he falsely inflated assets to mislead lenders. He is also under criminal investigation for events surrounding Jan. 6 and his handling of classified documents.


End of carousel

Any actual defenses are at risk of falling apart thanks to a man who, regardless of his guilt, has demonstrated very little interest in avoiding potential legal pitfalls.

Actually defending Trump means pretending the potential exposure of highly classified information just isn’t that big a deal, which is diametrically opposed to where the GOP was during the Hillary Clinton email server investigation. (Just imagine the right’s reaction if we had tape of Clinton saying, “You see that server over there? Lots of really juicy stuff on it!”)

Also, Trump’s public pronouncements about such things — like declassifying the documents — simply can’t be trusted because of his track record. The fact that Trump’s own lawyers won’t vouch for what he says is telling in that regard. Any substantial defense risks falling apart and forcing Republicans to account for the thing they said before.

And to the extent the evidence ultimately is as clear-cut and damning as Trump’s own former attorney general William P. Barr suggests it is, it’s just much easier to make a process argument.

But regardless of the arguments being offered, we have a political party that is rather blindly pot committed to the idea that this whole investigation is wrong. What the indictment means is that it will actually have to fill in those details at some point — even if that point isn’t today.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

Comments are closed.