Former President Donald Trump repeatedly rejected his attorneys’ attempts to see him return classified documents and minimize the legal fallout after he absconded to his private club in Florida with the sensitive material when he left the White House in 2021, according to a report by The Washington Post.
The Post, citing seven advisers to the former president, said Trump was extraordinarily stubborn when it came to negotiating with government officials. When one of his attorneys, Christopher Kise, suggested meeting with the Justice Department to negotiate a settlement that could avoid charges, Trump reportedly rejected that plan. Instead, he listened to the advice of Tom Fitton, the president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, who told him he could keep the documents and that he should fight Justice Department efforts to see them returned.
The effort was one of many by Trump’s lawyers and advisers to see him cooperate with investigators, entreaties that ultimately failed. Trump was arraigned Tuesday on 37 charges linked to the classified files and allegations by federal prosecutors that he obstructed the government’s efforts to collect them.
He surrendered himself to Miami authorities and entered a plea of not guilty to all charges. Media outlets have reported on Fitton’s closeness to Trump, but the latest report sheds new light on his legal team’s attempts to see him avoid an indictment.
The Post reported that Trump would regularly cite Fitton to his advisers as the fight with investigators continued, and the man often asserted to the former president’s attorneys that Trump could keep the documents. Several of those advisers told the Post that they blame Fitton for convincing Trump he had the right to keep the classified files.
Some advisers added that the FBI and National Archives’ insistence that Trump return the government documents only made him want to keep them more.
Fitton told the Post he didn’t understand “any” of the indictment, saying he believed the charges leveled against the former president were a “trap.” He added that Trump’s lawyers should have been more aggressive in fighting the subpoenas issued by the government.
“They had no business asking for the records … and they’ve manufactured an obstruction charge out of that,” Fitton told the newspaper. “There are core constitutional issues that the indictment avoids, and the obstruction charge seems weak to me.”
Trump and his allies have continued to cite the 1978 Presidential Records Act as justification for his keeping of the classified material, with the former president saying repeatedly he had the absolute right to take anything he wanted from the White House. But the law specifically states that any materials created or received by the president or his staff while carrying out official duties belong to the government.
“The PRA changed the legal ownership of the official records of the President from private to public, and established a new statutory structure under which Presidents, and subsequently NARA, must manage the records of their Administrations,” the National Archives and Records Administration says on its website.