A conservative has called out Donald Trump for purportedly using a debunked argument as a potential legal defense.
Ever since the FBI executed a search at Mar-a-Lago to seize boxes full of highly classified documents and a criminal investigation began, former president Trump has repeatedly claimed that he had the authority as president to declassify anything he wanted, and gain the right to take it home and keep it, just by mentally deciding that he wanted to do it. And while legal experts have made clear this is false, it has seemed for a while that Trump might use it as a legal defense that he at least thought that was the case, obviating the intent necessary to convict him of a crime like obstruction.
But as conservative writer Matt Lewis pointed out in an article for The Daily Beast on Thursday, this "stupidity" argument could blow up in the former president's face, because there is new evidence suggesting even that isn't true.
"According to CNN, '...the National Archives plans to hand 16 documents over to the special counsel that show Trump knew the correct procedure for declassifying such material,'" wrote Lewis. "In a letter obtained by CNN, acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall informs Trump that 'The 16 records in question all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you personally, concerning whether, why, and how you should declassify certain classified records.' This development could be significant because, as CNN notes, it 'gets to the question of whether Trump had criminal intent, a building block of any case against him.'"
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Trump's "stupidity defense" is nothing new, noted Lewis — it has served him in everything from the Russia investigation to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. But it has its limits. And on the 2020 investigation, the tactic could backfire.
"It’s harder to make the same argument in regards to Trump’s subsequent actions — including his attempt to overturn the 2020 election results and his illegally taking and retaining classified documents (both of which are currently being investigated by special counsel Jack Smith, a prosecutor so serious he doesn’t smile in photos)," wrote Lewis. Moreover, "attempting to preemptively undermine Trump’s George Costanza defense — 'it’s not a lie if you believe it' — the Jan. 6 Committee went to great pains to establish that Trump was fully aware that he actually lost the 2020 election. Trump aides even testified that Trump said things like, 'Can you believe I lost to this f---ing guy?' meaning Joe Biden."
"None of this means Trump won’t skate again. But the idea that he will be able to escape prosecution by claiming ignorance or incompetence seems increasingly unlikely," concluded Lewis. "To paraphrase Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), it’s time to dispel once and for all this fictional notion that Donald Trump doesn't know what he's doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing. And he’s going to keep doing it, as long as he thinks he can get away with it."