Former Republican President Donald Trump's legal defense amidst the escalating fallout from the FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago residence last month is not going well--and it's his own lawyers' fault.
Trump has repeatedly justified his hoarding of the highly sensitive documents the FBI found in his office by saying he "declassified" them on his way out of the White House.
But in a new court filing, Trump's lawyers argue the classification status of the documents should be "determined later"--a direct contradiction of Trump's own defense.
Trump's lawyers were careful to argue that Trump absolutely had the right to declassify the documents--an assertion that is ultimately beside the point, as the question is whether or not they were declassified at the time he removed them.
His lawyers chose not to address that topic in any way.
The filing was in response to the DOJ's appeal of federal Judge Aileen Cannon's decision to grant Trump's request that a "special master" be appointed to review the documents found in the FBI's search.
The DOJ is seeking to shorten the review period, exclude more than 100 classified documents from its terms, and exclude claims of privilege from the agreement.
The DOJ, however, has already reviewed the documents in question during the two-week period it took for Trump's camp to file their motion, and found nearly 200 highly classified documents in the trove, including those designated "top secret" and those pertaining to an unnamed foreign nation's nuclear capabilities.
Trump's filing shows that he and his attorney are pursuing a two-pronged defense strategy: one, that "the former president" has authority to decide what is and is not classified; and two, that under the Presidential Records Act the documents in question belong with either Trump or the National Archives, but not with the DOJ.
The first assertion is outright nonsense from a legal perspective--sitting Presidents have such authority, but former presidents do not.
But these weren't the only bizarrely incompetent assertions in the filing.
Trump's lawyers also absurdly downplayed the entire saga as a "document storage dispute" and contradicted Trump's other go-to defense: that the FBI and DOJ planted the sensitive documents in his office as part of an effort to entrap him.
All in all, not a particularly convincing filing for Trump and his lawyers to say the least, and people on Twitter couldn't help but roll their collective eyes.
Even as The Department of Justice has appealed Judge Cannon's decision on a "special master," they have also signaled their approval of one of the Trump team's choices to serve in the role: Judge Raymond Dearie, a Reagan appointee to the federal bench, who now serves as a senior circuit judge. He also served on the FISA Court, which approved the surveillance of Trump ally Carter Page as part of the investigation into whether Trump colluded with Russia in the 2016 campaign.
UPDATE 9/13/22 4:20pm ET: Trump lawyer Jesse Binnall went on Newsmax to assert once again that Trump did declassify "a number of things" while he was still president.
It is notable that Trump lawyers are willing to make this assertion publicly on television but not in an official court filing.