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Trump explains legal plan after arraignment.

Trump Outlines Legal Defense Against Indictment

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.

Trump spoke to a crowd of supporters and family members hours after pleading not guilty to 37 counts of charges linked to his handling of classified documents. He decried the indictment as a political hit job meant to derail his bid for the White House.

Presidential Records Act of 1987

In outlining his defense, the former president particularly focused on the Presidential Records Act of 1987. 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 had the power to reclassify them.

“Under the statute, this responsibility is left solely to the president,” Jackson wrote.

Trump explains legal plan after arraignment.
Donald Trump visits the Versailles restaurant in the Little Havana neighborhood after being arraigned at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. United States Federal Courthouse in Miami, Florida, on June 13, 2023. (Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)

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.

Attorney-Client Privilege

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.

Trump explains legal plan after arraignment.
Special counsel Jack Smith speaks at the Department of Justice in Washington on June 9, 2023. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

DOJ Treatment of Trump

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’v

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