Donald Trump is running for president in the face of a federal indictment. It is possible for a political leader to maintain his support in the face of criminal charges. Generally, this requires that leader to claim either that he is innocent of the crime or that he is willing to violate an unjust law in order to advance some higher purpose.
Trump’s argument for why he is being indicted draws on neither of these arguments. Instead, in a new interview with Fox News, he says he is being indicted because he wanted to make sure the government did not get his clothing.
Here is the exchange. Trump says the government is asking him to return the classified documents he took. Bret Baier asks why, after receiving a subpoena for the documents, did Trump not simply give them back? Trump says he had personal items in the boxes, and did not want to hand them over before checking all them and removing those:
TRUMP: “We never got this stuff, this back. Can we please, please, could we have it back?”
BAIER: And they did ask for it?
TRUMP: [crosstalk] They have no — no —
BAIER: And they said, “Could you give us the documents back?”[crosstalk] And then they said — went to DOJ to subpoena you to get them back.
TRUMP: Which they’ve never done before.
TRUMP: And in all fairness —
BAIER: Why not just hand them over then?
TRUMP: Because I had boxes — I wanted to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out. I don’t want to hand that over to NARA yet. And I was very busy, as you’ve sort of seen.
Okay, so the government wants the boxes back, and Trump hasn’t gone through them all yet. So then he orders his aide to move the boxes to fool the Feds, exposing himself to even more serious criminal liability. Trump does not deny this to Baier!
Instead he says he needed to be sure he didn’t hand over a box that had some of his clothing in it:
BAIER: Yeah. [crosstalk] But according to the indictment, you then tell this aide to move to other locations after telling your lawyers to say you’d fully complied with the subpoena, when you hadn’t.
TRUMP: But before I send boxes over, I have to take all my things out of them. These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things — uh, golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes, there were many things.
So Trump, by his own account, is facing felony charges because he didn’t want to hand over boxes that might contain his golf duds. He had to hold the boxes and search them all, lest he part with a cherished pair of pants. This is a very, very bad reason to go to prison.
Certainly, it can be annoying to lose your favorite golf outfits and have to buy some new ones. But golf shirts, pants, and shoes are all easily replaceable. The legal costs alone of his defense in this case massively outstrip the expense of replacing any clothing he might have potentially forfeited.
Additionally, even if we grant Trump’s claim to have been “very busy,” which is um, contestable, the 19 months that passed between his departure from the White House and the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago is adequate time to search the boxes for clothing and shoes. And even if he and his staff could go through every box for golf clothes in time, he could have simply asked the Justice Department to return any clothing items they found in the boxes.
That would have made more sense than engaging in a criminal conspiracy to hide the boxes — behavior Trump admitted on television — for fear of accidentally giving away some clothing. (Why Trump would have stored his golf clothes in the same boxes used to store classified intelligence, he did not explain.)
Trump is now asking people to vote for him for president of the United States and overlook his defense that he committed multiple felonies as part of a scheme to ensure he did not mistakenly give away golf pants.
There is one loose fact an interviewer should ask Trump: Did he ever find out if there were any golf clothes in the boxes?