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Is Accountability Finally Coming?
It may be time to expect evidence of Trump taking and keeping classified documents will lead to criminal indictment
Remember when he was called Teflon Don (à la mob boss John Gotti)? Are you angered (like me) that as evidence of his crimes keeps piling up prosecutors continue to hesitate from filing charges? Are you worried (like I have been) that nothing Donald Trump has done—or might still do—will ever convince Attorney General Merrick Garland that it is time to indict?
Well, in recent days, a growing collection of legal experts are insisting that the taped recording by Trump admitting that he kept a classified document about a potential attack on Iran and knew that he could not share it is finally—really, seriously, genuinely—smoking-gun evidence. Finally—really, seriously, genuinely—Special Counsel Jack Smith and his federal grand jury may have the evidence they need to indict Trump for espionage and obstruction of justice. Finally—really, seriously, genuinely—such an indictment could be weeks or even days away.
"If this reporting is true—and I'm trying not to use hyperbole—this is game over. There is no way that he will not be charged," legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann told MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace. Noting that such a document involving a possible military attack “is of the most sensitive types of classified information…if this report is accurate and there is this tape recording, there will be an indictment, and it is hard to see how, given all the evidence that we've been talking about, that there will not be a conviction here.”
"War plans are among the most highly classified documents. Puts pressure on DOJ to indict, and a jury to convict," tweeted Ryan Goodman, a former Pentagon lawyer and New York University law professor. "Make no mistake. This is squarely an Espionage Act case. It is not simply an 'obstruction' case. There is now every reason to expect former President Trump will be charged under 18 USC 793(e) of the Espionage Act. The law fits his reported conduct like a hand in glove."
Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin, a lawyer by training, summed it up this way in her column yesterday entitled “Trump’s smoking gun recording gives Jack Smith all he needs”:
This evidence effectively destroys whatever defense Trump was trying to concoct (he didn’t know there were classified documents, he declassified them, he thought they were not classified). Trump holds the presumption of innocence and has not been indicted. However, the last time such a damning piece of evidence (a ‘smoking gun’) came to light, Richard M. Nixon’s presidency was effectively over. (He left office less than a week later.)
In the Nixon case, the White House turned over subpoenaed tapes in late July 1974, after the Supreme Court demanded their release in an 8-0 ruling. The “smoking gun” tape was from June 23, 1972 involving a conversation between Nixon and his chief of staff, H.R. Haldeman. In the recorded meeting, they discussed stopping the FBI’s investigation of the Watergate break-in—what Watergate Special Counsel Leon Jaworski believed indicated a criminal conspiracy to obstruct justice.
In this Trump case, first reported by CNN, Trump spoke to two people at his Bedminster golf club in July 2021 who were researching an autobiography of his former chief of staff, Mark Meadows. In this recorded conversation—reportedly with the sound of rustling paper—Trump admitted that he held a classified Pentagon document involving Iran, undermining his assertion that he had declassified everything in his possession before leaving the White House. On the recording, CNN reports that sources said, “Trump’s comments suggest he would like to share the information but he’s aware of limitations on his ability post-presidency to declassify records.”
Not only are federal prosecutors now in possession of that recording, the federal grand jury that has been hearing evidence and witness testimony from Jack Smith’s prosecutors—which had reportedly slowed in recent weeks—is now expected to reconvene in the coming days. That’s good news for everyone yearning for justice to be served. Here’s how Jennifer Rubin summarizes this:
If equal justice under the law has any meaning and the evidence is there, Smith will have no choice but to recommend indictment, and Attorney General Merrick Garland will have no choice but to follow the recommendation. If Trump gets a pass on his alleged willful retention of war plans and alleged blabbing about them to others, then prosecuting virtually any other alleged violation would become all but impossible. And Garland certainly won’t fancy being remembered for tying prosecutors’ hands for years to come.
When it comes to Trump and the slow-grinding wheels of justice, we always have reason to wonder if this is a turning point. As former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner skeptically noted in the latest episode of his Justice Matters podcast: "I would call this ‘smoking gun evidence,’ but what does smoking gun evidence really mean when it comes to evidence proving Donald Trump committed crimes? Because there's a whole arsenal full of smoking guns, none of which has led to Donald Trump being charged with a single solitary crime."
While the actual document in question has reportedly not been found and that document is reportedly not authored by chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley—despite Trump’s aggravated contention otherwise—his recorded admission renders moot his assertion that just thinking about declassifying a document is good enough. As for Trump’s ludicrous response to the latest news of the recording on Fox: “I don’t know anything about it. All I know is this: Everything I did was right.”
Uh-huh. Tell that to the judge once the indictment happens.
As former federal prosecutor and former NYC mayoral candidate Maya Wiley told MSNBC’s Ari Melber, the "explosive" recording is "the last nail in a coffin that already has a whole lot of nails in it."
As lawyer and anti-Trump pundit (and soon to be ex-husband of Kellyanne Conway) George Conway vividly tweeted about Trump’s cavalier and criminal behavior: “It would actually be perfect for the most colossally nihilistic moron the world has ever seen to go to prison for doing something so brazenly illegal, yet at the same time so unimaginably pointless and stupid.”
It would be perfect. All Trump’s mouthing off would finally lead to just deserts.
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