Right-wing legal 'expert' told Trump he didn't have to give up classified documents
Gage Skidmore.

On Thursday, CNN reported that former President Trump got his advice to hold onto boxes full of classified documents in Mar-a-Lago by Tom Fitton, a right-wing legal activist and frequent Fox News guest.

"Fitton, the longtime head of the legal activist group Judicial Watch, had a simple message for Trump — it was a mistake to give the records to the Archives, and his team should never have let the Archives 'strong-arm' him into returning them, according to three sources familiar with the matter," reported Gabby Orr, Kristen Holmes, Evan Perez, and Jeremy Herb. "Those records belonged to Trump, Fitton argued, citing a 2012 court case involving his organization that he said gave the former President authority to do what he wanted with records from his own term in office."

"The Judicial Watch president suggested to Trump that if the Archives came back, he should not give up any additional records, according to sources with knowledge of their conversations," continued the report. "While Trump continued to publicly tout his cooperation with the Archives, privately the former President began obsessing over Fitton's arguments, complaining to aides about the 15 boxes that were handed over and becoming increasingly convinced that he should have full control over records that remained at Mar-a-Lago, according to people with knowledge of his behavior at the time." According to the report, Trump even wanted Fitton to give his attorneys a briefing on why he had a right to retain any documents he wanted.

Ironically, Fitton's group has spent years trying to force Hillary Clinton to submit to depositions about her use of a private email server for government business, which had previously triggered a federal investigation into whether any classified information had unintentionally been retained by the server. Judicial Watch was litigating the matter as recently as 2021, when the Supreme Court left in place a lower court order denying Judicial Watch's deposition request.

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"Trump didn't completely stonewall the government as Fitton had advised, turning over some material in June following a meeting between his lawyers and federal investigators at Mar-a-Lago," noted the report. "But after a Trump lawyer claimed all classified material had been provided, investigators developed evidence suggesting that was not the case, leading to the August 8 search."

This comes amid other reporting that the former president is privately telling his associates he is worried about the investigation into his retention of the documents, even as he publicly blasts the FBI's probe as illegitimate and politically motivated.

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