Waiting in the grass

It turns out that Trump’s attempt to stall the Justice Department gave them an opportunity to hang him out to dry.

Former President Donald J. Trump may have thought that he was playing offense when he asked a federal judge last week for an independent review of documents seized from his residence in Florida — a move that, at best, could delay but not derail an investigation into his handling of the records.

But on Tuesday night, the Justice Department used a routine court filing in the matter to initiate a blistering counteroffensive that disclosed new evidence that Mr. Trump and his legal team may have interfered with the inquiry.

Like that photograph for instance.

In what read at times like a road map for a potential prosecution down the road, the filing also laid out evidence that Mr. Trump and his lawyers may have obstructed justice.

Like when they promised that was all there was, and when they wouldn’t let the Feds investigate the storage room.

[T]he Justice Department’s objection to Mr. Trump’s request for a special master to review the retrieved material was nothing if not expansive. Unfolding over 36 pages, it combined complicated legal arguments with an easy-to-read narrative of how, in the course of more than a year, Mr. Trump and his lawyers repeatedly dodged the government’s attempts to get the documents back.

Aka a narrative of obstruction of justice.

While Mr. Trump’s lawyers have sought to portray the former president as the harried victim of government persecution, they have also claimed that he cooperated fully with the government’s attempts to get the documents back.

Which is a silly thing to claim because he was never supposed to have them in the first place. They don’t get to take the papers with them when they go.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers said that in May, the former president “voluntarily” accepted a grand jury subpoena seeking documents still in his possession that bore “classification markings.” 

Again – “voluntarily” is a silly word to use in this context. He doesn’t have a choice.

One month later, according to the lawyers’ account, Mr. Trump met with a top federal prosecutor and three F.B.I. agents who had gone to Mar-a-Lago to pick up the materials demanded by the subpoena.

Greeting them in the dining room of his estate, Mr. Trump assured the men that he was there to help. “Whatever you need,” the papers quoted him as saying, “just let us know.”

Again: silly. They’re there to find the papers he stole and then concealed. He’s not “there to help,” he’s the suspect. They’re not there to get his help finding some lost stuff, they’re there to seize what he’s been hiding from them.

In its filing on Tuesday, the Justice Department took issue with this obliging portrait of the former president, offering a cinematic picture of how Mr. Trump and his legal team had stymied efforts to retrieve the documents.

When the delegation from the Justice Department arrived at Mar-a-Lago on June 3, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers handed over a single Redweld envelope, double-wrapped in tape, explaining that the records inside had come from a storage room. Another lawyer — identified as Christina Bobb, according to people familiar with the matter — signed a certification letter, the filing said, swearing that “a diligent search” had been conducted and that all of the classified materials on the property had been turned over.

But when the delegation tried to visit the storage room, the filing said, one of the lawyers “explicitly prohibited” officials from opening or looking into any of the other boxes there. That, the filing said, stopped them from confirming that no materials with classification markings had been left behind.

So much for “anything you want, just ask us.” I can’t help wondering how that scenario went down.

Investigators soon discovered evidence — possibly from interviews with witnesses — that classified documents remained at Mar-a-Lago. Eventually, the filing said, the Justice Department came to believe that government records had likely been “concealed and removed from the storage room” and that efforts may have been taken “to obstruct the government’s investigation.”

So back they went on August 8, and darned if they didn’t find twice as many records as had been “voluntarily” handed over to them.

Matthew Miller, a former spokesman for the Justice Department, said the final product was a perfect distillation of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s oft-repeated belief that if the department needs to say something, it should only speak through its filings.

“That has been the difference between Trump and D.O.J.,” Mr. Miller said. “Trump keeps saying things publicly he can’t back up in court while D.O.J. waits in the grass and then shows up with a knockout blow.”

“And because Garland has been so conservative in his approach to the job,” he added, “those punches land even harder.”

Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.

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