An important ruling against him from judges he appointed. Strong allegations of fraud from the New York State Attorney General. It was a week of legal setbacks for Donald Trump, which reflect the problems that are accumulating and for which he will not be able to avail himself of the protections that the White House gave him.
The bravado that gave him so much money in politics doesn’t help him much in a legal field where verifiable evidence prevails and where an investigation of alleged fraud that began while he was still president gave way to a 222-page lawsuit against him.
“In politics you can say what you want and, if people like it, you score points. In the legal realm, things are different,” said Chris Edelson, an American University professor specializing in the powers of the presidency. “It is an area where, unlike in politics, there are tangible consequences for missteps, illegal actions, false statements.”
That distinction between politics and law was on display in a 30-hour period this week.
In an interview with Fox News, Trump insisted this week that the secret documents he had at his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, residence had been declassified and that a president has the power to declassify information “even if you just think about it.” ”.
The day before, however, an independent arbitrator his own lawyers had recommended was stunned that Trump’s people declined to present information corroborating his claim that the documents had been declassified. Arbitrator Raymond Dearie, a veteran federal judge, said that in the absence of evidence to justify Trump’s position, he tended to believe that the documents were still classified, as the government claims.
On Wednesday morning, Letitia James, the attorney general for New York, accused Trump of overstating his wealth by billions of dollars and engaging in the routine practice of inflating the value of his properties to banks. The lawsuit, the product of a three-year investigation that began when Trump was in office, also covers Trump’s three adult children and calls for them to be barred from running a business in New York state again. Trump denies having committed the irregularities he is accused of.
Hours later, three judges of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals — two of them appointed by Trump — dealt him another blow in connection with the investigation of the raid on his Mar-a-Lago residence.
They flatly rejected the argument that he had the right to ask an independent arbitrator to review the roughly 100 classified documents seized last month in an FBI raid. They also said it was not clear why Trump would have any “interest or need” in those documents.
The ruling cleared the way for the Justice Department to resume review of the documents. It also struck down an order by Judge Aileen Cannon that temporarily barred investigators from reviewing the documents. On Thursday, the judge removed from her ruling the part that required the Justice Department to give Dearie and Trump’s lawyers access to the classified documents.
Trump is used to legal battles. He has been the target of numerous lawsuits and has shown an unusual ability to survive seemingly compromising situations.
His lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
At the White House, Trump faced a dangerous investigation into whether or not he had obstructed a Justice Department investigation into his campaign contacts with Russia in 2016. On that occasion, he enjoyed the privileges of the presidency. Special counsel Robert Mueller respected the tradition that a sitting president is not indicted.
He was subjected to two political trials by disposition of the House of Representatives, and acquitted in both cases by the Senate with Republican votes.
It is unclear if he will be charged with any criminal offense in connection with any of the ongoing investigations. The New York lawsuit is a civil matter.
What is certain is that Trump no longer enjoys the legal privileges that the presidency gave him, an argument that he has appealed to over and over again.
Legal scholars who normally support Trump’s positions now doubt his strategies.
Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor who testified for Republicans in Trump’s first impeachment trial in 2019, said he was struck by the “absence of a coherent and consistent stance from the former president on classified documents.
“I don’t understand how a lawyer can say that you can declassify a document just by thinking about it,” he said. “The courts are unlikely to accept that argument.”
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