News of what Donald Trump’s former chief of staff told special counsel Jack Smith regarding the classified documents case in Florida is spreading. According to reports, Mark Meadows testified that he was not aware of any standing order to declassify any materials that the former president took with him to Mar-a-Lago.
Meadows told special counsel he could not recall Trump ever declassifying Mar-a-Lago docs https://t.co/dex8xxKk9aAugust 21, 2023
Appearing to contradict former President Donald Trump’s primary public defense in the classified documents case, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has told special counsel Jack Smith’s investigators that he could not recall Trump ever ordering, or even discussing, declassifying broad sets of classified materials before leaving the White House, nor was he aware of any “standing order” from Trump authorizing the automatic declassification of materials taken out of the Oval Office, sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.
Trump’s defense (at least publicly) has centered on an assertion that the former president gave a standing order to declassify materials taken from the White House to his Florida residence. Meadows is now allegedly telling the special counsel he wasn’t aware of such an order. That was likely music to Smiths’ ears because Meadows was chief of staff. The argument will be that if anyone would have known about such an order, it would have been Meadows.
Meadows also reportedly told investigators that he did not pack the boxes that ended up at Mar-a-Lago but that he did offer to go through them for Trump to remove any classified materials. That came after an official request was made for their return by NARA. Unfortunately, the former president did not take him up on his offer, a fact we’ve long known given they were still there when the FBI raided.
The former chief of staff also told investigators that shortly after the National Archives first requested the return of the official documents taken to Mar-a-Lago in 2021, he offered to Trump that he would go through the former president’s boxes to retrieve the official records and send them back to Washington. Meadows told investigators Trump did not accept his offer, according to sources.
None of this is great news for Trump as he fights off multiple indictments, including two in federal court filed by Smith. Taking off my rose-colored glasses, I still think the classified documents case is, by far, the strongest one as far as the legal facts on the ground go (Jonathan Turley, a long-time Trump defender on legal issues, also believes that). The indictment in Washington D.C. is much weaker in that regard, but also more dangerous overall because of the jury pool in that jurisdiction.
What will be the counter here? I’m not positive, but some are claiming that a privacy act review signed by Meadows is proof he knew of a declassification order. But a closer look reveals that the request only covered select materials related to Crossfire Hurricane (that were declassified by a specific order earlier in the administration), not all the documents found at Mar-a-Lago, making it largely irrelevant.
Then there’s the idea by simply removing the documents, they became declassified, meaning no order or acknowledgment by Trump was needed. That’s been asserted by a few people as a kind of catch-all defense. The problem is, even if you believe that is true, you’d need a jury to believe it. I can’t find any precedent for such an idea, and once you start getting that creative with the law, you are probably already in a really bad spot.
Meadows is almost certainly not going to be the last Trump associate whose testimony runs counter to the former president’s various defenses. After the process crime parade that Robert Mueller put on, I wouldn’t expect anyone to be anything but overly forthright with prosecutors. No one wants to end up being the goat who goes to jail.
These are big issues Republicans are facing even as Donald Trump continues to cruise to the 2024 nomination. There’s willful blindness going on among GOP voters as many of them focus solely on defeating Ron DeSantis in the primary. But rest assured, what seems like a calm before the storm is going to turn into a hurricane by the time the general election rolls around. Buckle up.