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Trump’s strategy in the classified documents case is rapidly unraveling

(CNN) — No judge would put it so crudely, but the court system is telling Donald Trump to suck it up or shut up about his wild claims and outlandish defenses about his hoarding of classified information at his Florida resort.

The case has taken a turn against the former president and toward the Justice Department in recent days, suggesting that the classic Trumpian legal strategy of delay, denial and diversion is not working as well as usual.

In a sign of how quickly Trump’s position may be eroding in this particular drama, several Republican senators took the unusual step of criticizing his handling of the documents Thursday, despite his firm grip on their party.

In the latest developments, an outside judge serving as a special expert Thursday gave Trump’s legal team until the end of next week to formally declare whether they believe his claim that the FBI planted incriminating evidence at Mar-a-Lago. during a raid last month. This came a day after an appeals court dealt Trump a swipe by ruling that his team had failed to present evidence to support its claims that he, as president, had declassified the roughly 100 secret documents the FBI seized. from your house.

In a sense, Trump is being given his day in court and every opportunity to prove his claims. He is being investigated by the Department of Justice for possible violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice for the mishandling of classified documents. So far there is no indication that he will be charged.

The raid, an unprecedented step against a former president, prompted questions about whether the Justice Department had overstepped its bounds given the delicate political sensitivity of the case, particularly as Trump has shown every sign that he is preparing another White House bid in 2024. .

But if the former president cannot prove his accusations, as many outside observers expect, his legal position will deteriorate considerably.

The key here may be that Trump’s lawyers, who understand they cannot lie under oath, have not repeated many of the former president’s statements before a judge. So the latest twists in the case are getting them stuck between their obligation to tell the truth and his client, who has a concept famous for the flexibility of fact and reality.

Those accused of fraud with Trump 2:23

A classic Trump strategy

The former president’s strategy is familiar and has been remarkably successful throughout much of his long and controversial business and political career.

Trump often substitutes a public relations defense for a legal defense, attacking institutions, government departments, courts, officials and the media that try to impose accountability or ask him to substantiate their accusations with facts. His strong support among rank-and-file Republican supporters reflects Trump’s talent for crafting a version of events that can be turned into a politically potent narrative.

It often seems like Trump concocts a new counterattack on the spot to help him get through a particularly dangerous moment, as when he told Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday that a president could simply declassify a document with it in his head, a absurd repeal of intelligence processes.

This approach fails, however, when accusations that work well as a political strategy collide with the factual threshold of a courtroom where statements must be made under penalty of perjury.

“The power of our courts is that they have a way of bringing the truth out,” CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said Thursday on “Erin Burnett OutFront,” adding that anyone could say whatever they wanted in public or in court. the media. “But when you walk into a courtroom, ultimately, and it’s going to happen here sooner rather than later, the judge or jury is going to say, ‘Okay, that’s your accusation, now prove it.'”

The tension between Trump’s public statements and what is admissible in court now playing out in the classified documents case is reminiscent of what happened after the 2020 election. Trump and his political cronies made extreme accusations of voter fraud and cheating. in public. But his claims were repeatedly rejected by various courts when his lawyers failed to present evidence or refused to repeat the accusations before a judge.

Unless the former president can provide credible evidence of FBI wrongdoing and that he soon went through a legal process to declassify the documents, he is likely to have more bad days in court than he experienced this week.

“It’s just going to expose this lie. Lawyers know they can’t lie to the judge, they could be penalized, they could be disbarred,” said Dave Aronberg, state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, on “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” .

“Trump can say whatever he wants in public with impunity, but it’s different for his lawyers,” added Aronberg, who is a Democrat.

Trump pressured the Justice Department, according to testimonies 6:36

The special expert punctures Trump’s strategy

New twists in a case that has paralyzed the political world came when Judge Raymond Dearie, the court-appointed special expert witness, said in a filing Thursday that the Trump team must file an affidavit saying whether they believe the Department of Justice included items in its “inventory” of materials taken from Mar-a-Lago that were not actually seized during the raid.

Trump’s claims to this effect shortly after the raid sparked a political furor, and were widely picked up by conservative media anchors and even some prominent Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. But now there may be a price Trump must pay.

It was the second time this week that Dearie, who was suggested for the role of special expert to leak the documents stolen from Mar-a-Lago by the former president’s team, dealt a blow to his defense. After Trump’s lawyers refused to say in court that Trump had declassified the documents he brought to the resort, Dearie told them, “You can’t have your cake and eat it.”

In the other big move in the case this week, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision that prevented the Justice Department from examining about 100 classified documents that were taken from Mar-a-Lago. Once again, the justices, two of whom in the three-judge panel were Trump appointees, objected to the idea that the documents had been declassified.

“The file contains no evidence that any of these records have been declassified. And before the special expert, the plaintiff refused to provide any evidence that he had declassified any of these documents, ”says the court ruling.

This came on the same day that Trump’s legal exposure on multiple fronts deepened as the state of New York filed a civil lawsuit against him, three of his adult children, and the Trump Organization alleging gross tax and insurance fraud and seeking a variety of severe penalties. Trump said that he is the victim of another example of political persecution and denied the accusations against him.

US Department of Justice advances against Trump 3:25

Republicans create space from Trump

The apparent erosion of Trump’s legal standing is leading to a simultaneous weakening of the former president’s support base among senior senators from his party.

Asked about Trump’s claim on Fox News that he could simply declassify documents by thinking about it, Senate GOP Leader John Thune told CNN that there is a process to declassify documents.

“I think that should be enforced and followed. And I think that should apply to anyone who has access to or deals with classified information,” the South Dakota Republican said.

Sen. Thom Tillis, a North Carolina Republican who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN that he believes there is a process a president must follow to declassify records.

“I think there’s a formal process that needs to go through, that needs to go through and be documented,” Tillis said. “And to the extent that they were declassified, they went through the process, that’s fine…As I understand the requirements of the Executive Branch, there is a process that one has to go through.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, a Republican from South Dakota who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called the handling of classified documents a “very serious” problem.

“People can get hurt, people can die if it’s not stored properly and if that information is released,” Rounds told CNN’s Manu Raju.

Other Republican senators dodged questions on the matter.

“I think the president has the prerogative to declassify,” Indiana Sen. Mike Braun said, showing that while the former president’s legal strategy may be increasingly in tatters, there are still Republican lawmakers who fear paying a political price for challenging him.

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