scorecardTrump acted like 'the Godfather if it was reenacted by a 5-year-old' to try to keep his hands clean in Mar-a-Lago case: experts
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Trump acted like 'the Godfather if it was reenacted by a 5-year-old' to try to keep his hands clean in Mar-a-Lago case: experts

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Trump acted like 'the Godfather if it was reenacted by a 5-year-old' to try to keep his hands clean in Mar-a-Lago case: experts
PoliticsPolitics3 min read
  • The new indictment against Trump describes how he tried to hide classified documents from the FBI.
  • One national security lawyer described Trump's actions like "the Godfather — if it was reenacted by a five-year-old."

After one of Donald Trump's lawyers found documents with classification markings in storage at Mar-a-Lago, he met with the former president.

"Did you find anything? ... Is it bad? Good?" Trump said at the meeting last June, according to the indictment against him unsealed Friday.

Trump made "a plucking motion," which the lawyer, Evan Corcoran, took as a directive.

"He made a funny motion as though — well okay why don't you take them with you to your hotel room and if there's anything really bad in there, like, you know, pluck it," Corcoran later memorialized.

In other discussions, Trump was more explicit about hiding documents from the FBI, the indictment says.

"Wouldn't it be better if we just told them we don't have anything here?" Trump said, according to the indictment.

"Well look isn't it better if there are no documents?" he allegedly added later in the meeting.

Trump's lawyers ultimately turned over the document to the FBI, following a subpoena.

But the former president held onto others.

The new indictment against Trump, brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, accuses Trump of violating the Espionage Act 31 times by refusing to hand over classified documents with highly sensitive national security ramifications.

The Justice Department's indictment against the former president depicts blundering, incompetent attempts to cover up clear violations of the Espionage Act, as well as obstructing justice by "suggesting that his attorney hide or destroy documents," along with other alleged crimes.

To veteran national security lawyer Kel McClanahan, it brought to mind "the Godfather — if it was reenacted by a five-year-old."

"I found it hilarious that some of his most incriminating things were recorded by his lawyers," McClanahan told Insider. "Beautiful."

To McClanahan, the executive director of National Security Counselors and a lecturer at George Washington University's law school, Smith's indictment against Trump is "masterfully written."

From the start, it limits various defenses Trump would try to raise, narrows its focus on 31 documents instead of the hundreds or thousands that Trump spirited away to Mar-a-Lago, and points out that Trump was himself critical of this type of behavior when he attacked Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016, McClanahan said.

The indictment also describes how Trump used Waltine Nauta — his personal assistant and a co-defendant in the case — to carry out the alleged scheme.

"Everything in here was designed to craft the narrative that this is a kingpin who knowingly broke the law, endangered national security, endangered nuclear weapon security, endangered other countries' national security — and his faithful butler carried this all out for him and is going to go down with him because he refused to come clean about his boss's criminal dealings," McClanahan said. "You can't write this in a plot of a procedural."

Trump could have easily avoided criminal charges by simply handing over the documents in the first place, Jon Sale, a former federal prosecutor, told Insider.

"If they had decided to comply with the subpoena, there never would've been an indictment," Sale said. "There never would've been a case involving the Espionage Act. There never would've been any charges."

McClanahan said Trump's bumbling attempts to cover up his alleged crimes through his communications with his lawyers made the case all the more damning.

"It's just mind-boggling how someone can get away with so much for so long when they are so bad at it," he said.

The testimony from Corcoran looks like is particularly compelling, according to Sale.

"He's saying that his client — the former president — told him to lie," Sale said. "If a jury believes that, then that's textbook obstruction."

Trump has cast Smith's case as politically motivated and said he was within his legal rights to hold on to the government documents.

According to McClanahan, if you removed the consideration that Trump is a former president of the United States, the indictment looks like "a routine espionage case" like the ones against Chelsea Manning, Reality Winner, and Harold Martin.

It's extremely rare for prosecutors to lose espionage cases.

"This is one of the most incriminating speaking indictments I've seen in a very long time," McClanahan said, laughing.