Former President Donald Trump dismissed a report that the FBI searched for classified documents related to nuclear weapons at his private Florida club as a “Hoax” on Friday morning, downplaying the potential legal trouble he might be in if that report turns out to be true.
And yet that astonishing allegation was only the tip of Trump’s iceberg of legal woes, which appeared to grow larger every day. The week that followed was simply a stunning run of legal drama, even by Trump’s notoriously turbulent standards.
On Monday, FBI agents arrived at dawn to search his Palm Beach club and residence for classified records—four years after Trump himself signed a law that raised the penalty for removing and retaining classified documents without authorization from one to five years in prison.
On Tuesday, Trump lost a crucial court battle to shield his tax returns from Congressional Democrats.
On Wednesday, he sat for hours with New York officials who are probing potential fraud at his family business. He invoked his Fifth Amendment protection from self-incrimination over 400 times, pulling a move he once mocked as fit only for guilty people and “the mob.”
On Thursday, the Justice Department asked a judge to unseal the warrant used to search his property, raising the threat that the warrant could describe what kind of national security documents Trump might have squirreled away at Mar-a-Lago—and potentially blowing up his accusations that the search was totally unfounded.
Now, on Friday, those documents look like they’re about to drop.
The dizzying turbulence may point to Trump’s legal dramas dominating the next season of U.S. politics, with the midterm elections just three months away and the 2024 presidential election campaigns due to kick off shortly after that. Trump moved to capitalize on the outrage stoked by the search by lashing out at the FBI and other law enforcement officials, and quickly rallied many Republicans behind him.
Some even urged Trump to announce his campaign for the presidency sooner rather than later, on the strength of his new political momentum.
The question now may be how Trump’s legal and political fortunes will collide, and whether Trump will find himself subject to devastating criminal or civil penalties and end up in prison—or be able to use them to his political advantage and land back in the White House.
The search at Mar-a-Lago
Attorney General Merrick Garland’s bid to release the Mar-a-Lago search warrant promises to reveal fresh details about what prompted federal officers to retrieve documents from Trump’s property—including what they were seeking and why it was necessary to dispatch dozens of FBI agents to Palm Beach, Florida, on Monday to conduct an unprecedented search of a former president’s residence.
On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that classified documents related to nuclear weapons were among the files sought by FBI agents, citing people familiar with the investigation.
Trump urged a judge in Florida to approve releasing the search warrant and property list associated with the case immediately.
Yet the nuclear allegation appeared to underscore comments made by Garland about the gravity and urgency of the Mar-a-Lago search.
‘The mob takes the Fifth’
Meanwhile, Trump’s business empire appeared under threat, too.
Some are now anticipating that New York Attorney General Letitia James may be about to drop the hammer down on the Trump Organization.
James’ probe into possible fraud could result in an attempt to impose what’s known as New York’s “corporate death penalty,” or an attempt to dissolve the company. Jed Shugerman, a professor at Fordham University Law School, has argued in the past that James should go for it.
Such a lawsuit would utilize the state’s Business Corporation Law, and could potentially seek to show that the company conducted business in a persistently fraudulent manner.
James has already claimed in court documents that Trump’s company made false representations about the valuations of various assets.
James’ team has said that it “has developed significant additional evidence indicating that the Trump Organization used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.”
Trump fired back at James, a Democrat, this week with the same accusation he leveled at the FBI. He accused her of running an anti-Trump “politically motivated witch hunt,” and noted her public promises to investigate Trump.
“Letitia James is a failed politician who has intentionally colluded with others to carry out this phony yearslong crusade that has wasted countless taxpayer dollars, all in an effort to prop up her political career,” he said in a statement.
Trump argued this political bias meant he had no choice but to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination, despite previously mocking those who did.
His critics, however, gloated over the moment of irony.
“I recall Donald once stating only criminals plead the Fifth,” Trump’s estranged former attorney Michael Cohen told VICE News. “I agree… only criminals plead the Fifth!”
Meanwhile, in Georgia
Even while all this was happening, another criminal investigation in Georgia also moved deeper into Trump’s inner circle.
Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating whether Trump and his allies committed crimes by attempting to turn his defeat in the Peach State in the 2020 election into a win.
Willis’ team spent the week in legal skirmishes with two of Trump’s closest allies, attorney Rudy Giuliani and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Both men sought to avoid answering a subpoena to give testimony to a special grand jury investigating the matter.
Graham’s lawsuit, which argues he shouldn’t be forced to discuss an issue that related to his work as a member of Congress, is still pending. But Giuliani’s objections that his recent bout of medical treatment left him too unwell to fly to an appearance in Atlanta failed to convince a judge to postpone his appearance indefinitely.
The judge noted that Giuliani’s doctor said he wasn’t cleared for air travel, but that he could go to Georgia “on a train, on a bus or Uber, or whatever it would be,” and set a new date for next week.
The subpoenas for Graham and Giuliani suggest Willis is drawing ever closer to Trump—whom Willis has said could also receive a subpoena eventually.
Here, too, Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong.
But like in New York and Palm Beach, Atlanta is one more place where it remains to be seen whether Trump, or law enforcement, will get to have the last word.
Follow Greg Walters on Twitter.