Former President Donald Trump used a significant portion of his speech in Bedminster, New Jersey, on Tuesday to lay out the legal defense his team is likely to take against an indictment brought by special counsel Jack Smith.
In outlining his defense, the former president particularly focused on the Presidential Records Act of 1978. Trump suggested that the act gives the president discretion to determine which records are personal and which are presidential, and, as a result, belong to the public.
While the documents Trump is being charged with illegally retaining do not fit the criteria to be personal records under the act, Trump referred to a 2012 district court ruling in a case concerning audio tapes former President Bill Clinton kept after leaving the White House. In that decision, Judge Amy Berman Jackson concluded that even though Clinton’s tapes should have been classified as presidential records and turned over to the National Archives, the national archivist didn't have the power to reclassify them.
“Under the statute, this responsibility is left solely to the president,” Jackson wrote.
Trump had previously hinted at this line of defense, jokingly referring to the lawsuit by Judicial Watch as the “Clinton socks” case, because Clinton had kept the tapes of his interviews with historian Taylor Branch stored in a sock drawer. Unlike the Clinton tapes, the documents in Trump’s possession had classification markers. It remains to be seen how the former president’s defense team will construct their argument.
“Now just think of it, in other words, whatever documents the president decides to take with him, he has the right to do so. It's an absolute right. This is the law,” Trump said.
In an indictment unsealed on June 9, the special counsel charged Trump with 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information and six counts including conspiracy to obstruct justice, concealing documents, and false statements.
Trump pleaded not guilty to all of the charges during an appearance in federal court in Miami earlier on Tuesday. The presiding judge prohibited Trump from speaking to his co-defendant, Walt Nauta, about the case.
Trump also drew attention to the special counsel’s piercing of Trump’s attorney-client privilege to obtain the notes taken by his attorney, M. Evan Corcoran.
“What they did to lawyers, what they have done to our lawyers, our lawyers, all of our lawyers, they've done things that were absolutely horrible and unthinkable,” Trump said.
Shortly after leaving the courthouse, Trump returned to the campaign trail, stopping by a Cuban restaurant in Miami. A group of supporters prayed with the former president.
Jack Smith was appointed as the special counsel days after Trump announced his presidential candidacy in November last year. Trump has framed the investigation and the indictment that followed as a politically motivated attack meant to keep him from the presidential ballot in 2024.
The Biden White House declined to comment on the case. President Joe Biden has said that he learned of the indictment from the news media.
Democrats and Trump’s critics have challenged the notion that the Department of Justice (DOJ) has treated Trump unfairly. They point to the timeline of the case, which shows the government giving Trump several opportunities to turn in the records prior to the raid of Mar-a-Lago.
“But let’s not lie about his treatment by DOJ. They’ve been pretty deferential and slow and soft,” Rep. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) wrote on Twitter on June 13.
After detailing what may become his legal strategy, Trump pivoted to campaign rhetoric, covering topics including energy, the border, lowering taxes, and crime. He reiterated his promises to end the war in Ukraine on his first day in office and to “obliterate” the deep state. The former president delivered the speech from the stone patio of his golf club adorned with American flags, red-white-and-blue bunting, and a podium with his campaign logo.
Before wrapping up the 30-minute speech, Trump said he would appoint a special counsel to investigate the business dealings of President Joe Biden and his family. Trump and his allies have alleged in recent days that the special counsel’s indictment was meant to distract from recently unearthed allegations about the Bidens’ dealings with Ukraine.
“I am the only one that can save this nation because you know they're not coming after me, they're coming after you, and I just happened to be standing in their way, and I will never be moved,” Trump said.
“On November 5, 2024, justice will be done. We will take back our country and we will make America great again.”