Donald Trump’s coup attempt at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 got him banned from Twitter, which forced the former president to start his own social media company called Truth Social. And the U.S. Department of Justice must be incredibly thankful Trump still has a way to talk directly with the public, since the 45th president appeared to admit to at least one serious crime on Truth Social last night.
Trump’s home in Florida was famously raided on August 8 after the Department of Justice and National Archives asked the former president for any classified documents he took from the White House but only received a handful back. And late Tuesday, a new court filing in the case included a photo showing many of the highly classified documents the FBI found Trump was illegally holding at Mar-a-Lago.
Trump tried to defend himself over the incident on Wednesday, sending out various messages on Truth Social that he apparently thought would exonerate him. But one message in particular contradicted his own legal team’s court filings and seemed to be an admission of guilt for various crimes, including violation of the Presidential Records Act and obstruction of justice.
Trump’s post on Truth Social on Wednesday night:
There seems to be confusion as to the “picture” where documents were sloppily thrown on the floor and then released photographically for the world to see, as if that’s what the FBI found when they broke into my home. Wrong! They took them out of cartons and spread them around on the carpet, making it look like a big “find” for them. They dropped them, not me - Very deceiving…And remember, we could have NO representative, including lawyers, present during the Raid. They were told to wait outside.
Why could this social media message be a huge problem for Trump? To start with, it’s a rather blunt acknowledgment that Trump not only knew he had classified documents in his possession, in violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978, but that he knew where they were and how they were stored. And several lawyers made this point on Twitter.
“Trump now whines that the documents weren’t on the floor like that. ‘They took them out of cartons,’ he says. How does he know where they were stored?” asked Tristan Snell, a lawyer who previously worked prosecuting Trump’s fraudulent Trump University when he was with the New York Attorney General’s office.
If Trump knew he still had classified documents, that would be at odds with a sworn statement from Trump’s legal team that everything had already been handed over. The name of Trump’s legal representative who swore to that claim is redacted in the court filing.
The government’s court filing also said the classified documents “were likely concealed” and that, “efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation.” And Trump never even bothered to argue against that point.
The other thing Trump’s new Truth Social post makes clear is that these documents couldn’t have been planted by the FBI, an allegation that has been made repeatedly by Trump supporters on Fox News, Newsmax, and OAN. The idea that documents could’ve been planted isn’t impossible, as we’ve seen plenty of videos showing police officers planting drugs in recent years thanks to the advent of body cameras. But let’s take the drug analogy further. Imagine Trump had been accused of holding heroin at Mar-a-Lago. Replace the word “documents” with “heroin needles” and you can see that Trump is admitting he knew exactly where they were and how they were organized.
There seems to be confusion as to the “picture” where [heroin needles] were sloppily thrown on the floor and then released photographically for the world to see, as if that’s what the FBI found when they broke into my home. Wrong! They took them out of cartons and spread them around on the carpet, making it look like a big “find” for them. They dropped them, not me - Very deceiving
The problem for Trump becomes much more clear now, as anyone with a little bit of common sense can see.
The other crime that Trump could potentially be charged with is violating the Espionage Act. It’s entirely possible that Trump was showing these documents to visitors, or in a more nefarious possibility, selling the documents to foreign governments. There’s already evidence that Trump’s son-in-law received $2 billion from the Saudi government, and no one really knows what the Saudis got in return for their cash. It certainly wasn’t a smart investment, according to just about everyone involved. But Trump’s lawyers don’t seem too concerned with charges of espionage. In fact, they’re calling the law “mundane.”
“They say themselves in these papers that they filed... that this is under the Presidential Records Act,” Trump lawyer Allina Habba said on Charlie Kirk’s podcast on Wednesday, according to the Daily Beast.
“So what they did was try and criminalize Donald Trump as they always do. They found these three mundane statutes: espionage and the two others ― obstruction. And they are trying to claim there is some sort of criminal activity,” Habba continued.
Another defense of Trump’s actions has been that he declassified all of these documents, but it’s unlikely that will hold up in court. For one thing, the president can declassify almost any document he wants, but not some of the most closely held nuclear secrets. And there have been reports from the start that at least some of these Mar-a-Lago documents held nuclear secrets.
But even if you want to believe Trump somehow declassified these in his head, as some of his lawyers have tried to argue, that’s not how it works. The president has to declare documents declassified and then they get marked with a line striking through the “top secret” notation on each page. Anyone who’s received formerly classified documents through the Freedom of Information Act is familiar with what this looks like, such as the document below. None of the documents in the photo taken by the FBI show markings that indicate anything there was declassified.
There was a reasonable argument that Trump needed to get booted from Twitter because his neo-fascist language to supporters was a threat to the safety and security of the United States. But at this point, Trump’s social media activity could reasonably force the hand of a Department of Justice that’s clearly uneasy about making the unprecedented move of charging a former president with a crime.
Give Trump his Twitter account back, just for a few days. With any luck, Trump will incriminate himself so badly there’s simply no choice but to throw him in prison for the rest of his life. Or, at the very least, maybe we’ll get to learn where Jimmy Hoffa’s body is buried or what happened in Roswell, New Mexico in the 1940s.