Donald Trump’s supporters in the Republican Party have produced numerous defenses of his mishandling of presidential records and even more numerous attacks on the Justice Department for its effrontery in taking the records from a locker in Trump’s country club. But for sheer entertainment value, none of those polemics may match Conrad Black’s column in the American Mind, a publication of the Claremont Institute.
Unlike the circuitous arguments of the anti-anti-Trumpers, who attack Trump’s adversaries (the FBI can’t be trusted, you know) without defending his conduct directly, Black states straight out that the former president committed no crime whatsoever. “There is no evidence against Trump of having done anything illegal,” he insists.
The Justice Department has in fact cited three laws that Trump allegedly violated by taking government records and refusing to turn them over when asked: Section 793 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code, which “criminalizes the unauthorized retention or disclosure of information related to national defense that could be used to harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary”; Section 2071, which “criminalizes the theft or destruction of government documents”; and Section 1519, which penalizes the concealment or destruction of documents “with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter.”
Black doesn’t bother wading into, or even brushing up against, the legal details of the search warrant. Instead, he asserts that the charges have been “gradually back-pedaled,” and that “the legal farce is de-escalating” without substantiating this impression. Maybe it is just a feeling he has. If so, it is at odds with the impression one gets by reading the news and learning things like the National Archives’ contention that the seized material includes “more than 700 pages of classified material — including ‘special access program materials,’ some of the most highly classified secrets in government,” as Politico reports.
Black, of course, does not trust the news, but he presumably trusts the website run by Trump’s house stenographer John Solomon, whose JusttheNews.com published the letter.
Black argues by implication that if the material was truly important, the government would not have waited so long: “Justice should have proceeded by subpoena, and cannot explain why it waited for 19 months since Trump left office, during which Trump claims he cooperated entirely with it, to take this step.” This is a good example of conservatives using the government’s cautious, kid-gloves approach toward Trump’s flagrant lawbreaking against it. If the Justice Department had moved faster, rather than granting Trump multiple extensions, that would have also been turned into proof he is being treated unfairly.
Black insists it was an “outrage” for the government to take back its records because “a president can declassify anything he wants.” But there is no evidence Trump actually did declassify any of the material in his locker. (Trump has retroactively claimed to have made a blanket declassification order for any document he touches, but no fewer than 18 former top Trump administration officials tell CNN they had no knowledge of any such order.) Even if it did exist, the crimes implicating Trump do not rest on the documents being classified anyway.
Having claimed the raid had no legal basis, Black posits that it must be politically motivated before going on to assert that it “may also have finally generated some independent voter empathy for” Trump. Naturally, he produces no evidence for this claim either.
However, the episode does seem to have rallied Trump’s base, and no part of his base is more devoted to Trump than Conrad Black, especially on matters of white-collar crime. Black, a convicted criminal who served time for fraud and obstruction of justice before Trump pardoned him, has more reason to empathize with and feel gratitude toward Trump than perhaps any other Trump supporter. (Trump has enjoyed an outpouring of support from his base of criminal friends.)
Indeed, Black’s experience as both a fellow convicted offender and a recipient of Trump’s favor is the most relevant credential he possesses to comment on the case. Alas, the column fails to mention either his conviction or Trump’s pardon.