The ex-president struck a defiant tone while addressing supporters at the Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Tuesday night. Hours earlier, Trump reportedly remained silent while his attorney Todd Blanche entered a not guilty plea on his behalf to all 37 of the felony counts during an arraignment hearing in Miami, Florida.
Trump denounced the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Special Counsel Jack Smith for pursuing what he said was “one of the most outrageous and vicious legal theories ever put forward in an American court of law” and “threatening” him with “400 years in prison for possessing my own presidential papers” during his speech in Bedminster.
He argued that the charges were unjustified because most stem from the Espionage Act, while lamenting that the unrelated Presidential Records Act was not mentioned in the indictment.
“The Espionage Act has been used to go after traitors and spies,” Trump said. “It has nothing to do with a former president legally keeping his own documents. As president, the law that applies to this case is not the Espionage Act but very simply the Presidential Records Act, which is not even mentioned in this ridiculous 44-page indictment.”
But Trump is no longer serving as president. Federal prosecutors have charged him with crimes that they say took place after he left the White House, at which point legal custody of the sensitive documents was transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
In a press release issued last week, NARA said that “the Presidential Records Act requires the President to separate personal documents from Presidential records before leaving office” and that documents in the possession of former presidents and vice presidents must quickly be “turned over” to the archives.
“There is no history, practice, or provision in law for presidents to take official records with them when they leave office to sort through,” the release states. “If a former President or Vice President finds Presidential records among personal materials, he or she is expected to contact NARA in a timely manner to secure the transfer of those Presidential records to NARA.”
Trump and some of his allies have criticized the DOJ for not yet prosecuting President Joe Biden, who was also found to be in possession of classified documents dating to his time serving as vice president. Special Counsel Robert Hur was appointed to investigate related issues.
However, Biden and his legal team were said to have immediately notified NARA upon discovering the documents. In contrast, prosecutors accuse Trump of obstructing authorities and deliberately misleading his own attorneys about the documents that he retained after leaving the White House.
The former president’s legal team may ultimately challenge the use of the Espionage Act, which applies to 31 of the 37 counts, although at least one former Trump defender has expressed skepticism that the strategy would work and the ex-president would still be facing six felony counts and potentially decades behind bars even if it did.
Trump has also claimed that he “automatically” declassified all of the documents in his possession. An audio recording cited in his indictment purportedly contradicts the claim, capturing the former president admitting that he did not declassify at least one document while openly discussing it in July 2021 with people who lacked security clearances.
Newsweek has reached out to NARA via email and the DOJ online for comment.
Published: 2023-06-14 04:39:05