Former President Donald Trump’s comments Wednesday night about his handling of classified documents appear to contradict statements by his lawyers and provide potentially important evidence for federal prosecutors investigating whether to charge him with a crime, legal experts say.
Trump’s lawyers told Congress last month that classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago compound got there by accident. But when asked about the issue at a CNN town hall, Trump said he had «every right» to remove them from the White House.
«I didn’t make a secret of it,» he said. «You know, the boxes were parked outside the White House, people were taking photos.»
He said he had no recollection of showing secret material to others, which is a key question prosecutors would want answered. Revealing classified material to persons not authorized to receive it is an offense punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
Asked if he would show classified documents to others, he replied, «Not really… I would be entitled to,» then added, «Not that I can think of.»
«Trump’s comments hurt him, and what he said is significant,» said John Fishwick, a former US attorney for the Western District of Virginia who was appointed during the Obama administration.
“Not only are they contradicting his legal position, he admits possession and knowledge of classified documents that he is stealing from the White House. Jack Smith will put last night’s town hall to good use and help him close his case.»
Smith, a special counsel, is investigating the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago and Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. Another special counsel, Robert Hur, is investigating the circumstances surrounding the classified documents. found in the home and office of President Joe Biden.
Andrew Weissmann, a former FBI attorney general and NBC News contributor who worked for special counsel Robert Mueller investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, said Trump’s unwillingness to rule out showing classified documents to others » It’s like red meat for a prosecutor.» .”
In their letter last month to the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Trump’s lawyers suggested that classified documents were inadvertently sent to Mar-a-Lago, mixed in by accident with other records.
“When President Trump left office, there was little time to prepare for the outgoing transition of the presidency,” the letter from attorneys Tim Parlatore, John Rowley, James Trusty and Lindsay Halligan said. “Unlike his three predecessors, each of whom had more than four years to prepare for his departure at the end of his second term, President Trump had much less time to finish his administration. White House staff and General Services Administration («GSA») employees quickly packed everything into boxes and shipped them to Florida.»
The lawyers suggested later in the letter that Trump was initially unaware of the presence of classified material.
“Trump asked his staff to retrieve 15 boxes that had been moved to Mar-a-Lago so he could see what was in them before shipping them to NARA in Washington, DC,” they wrote, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration. . . «However, due to other demands on his time, President Trump subsequently ordered his staff to send the boxes to NARA without any review by him or his staff.»
They added that the discovery of classified documents in the homes of Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence should dispel «any doubt that the presence of marked documents in the boxes was the result of institutional processes by the White House, rather than intentional decisions by President Trump.» ”. ”
Trump appeared to undermine that account Wednesday night, saying, «I was there and I took what I took and they declassified it,» which is not true.
One of Trump’s lawyers rejected the idea that such comments are problematic.
“It is completely consistent with what was in our letter,” Parlatore said in an email. «He was allowed to take these documents with him, because the customs that have been followed … for previous presidents were not followed for President Trump. This is one of the reasons why we have asked Congress to look at this to fix it». future administrations”.
Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, told NBC News last year that Trump had a habit of keeping highly classified documents given to him at intelligence briefings. He said aides began enlarging maps and charts to poster-size so Trump couldn’t bag them.
michael kosnar contributed.