From the Left



Rap Sheet: If It's Friday, It Must Be the Espionage Act

Jeff Robbins on

Some week last week.

On Wednesday, former President Donald Trump, already under criminal investigation for conspiring to obstruct the Senate's counting of the electoral votes that made Joe Biden president (federal grand jury), election fraud (Georgia grand jury) and tax and bank fraud (Manhattan district attorney), refused to answer 440 questions directed to him during a civil deposition that he'd been ordered to attend, invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. "The Mob takes the Fifth," Trump sneered at a 2016 rally. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"


New York's Attorney General had compelled Trump to show up to answer questions about whether he had defrauded tax authorities, financial institutions and God knows who else in connection with false tax filings and loan applications. The Former Guy's refusal to do anything but decline to answer for four hours qualified him for induction into The Fifth Amendment Hall of Fame. But though invoking the Fifth can't be held against the invoker in a criminal case, it sure can in a civil case like the one he and his company face in New York. This means that they are likely to lose that case and pay stiff financial penalties as a consequence.

Which isn't to say that Trump's decision to clam up wasn't the right move given the alternative. It was. In the virtually inconceivable event that Trump actually told the truth at the deposition about his tax filings and financial statements, he would revive the Manhattan district attorney's criminal probe, presently dormant. And in the virtually certain event that Trump lied in the deposition, he would generate yet one more set of criminal charges against him for -- you guessed it! -- perjury.

By Friday, however, Wednesday's news that the former president of the United States had taken the Fifth about whether he had committed a whole lot of fraud seemed like the stuff of an almost idyllic past, sort of the good old days. By Friday it was possible to feel almost nostalgic about Wednesday.

Because on Friday it emerged that the FBI, the Justice Department and a federal judge all agreed that there was probable cause to conclude that Trump had committed three additional federal crimes -- crimes that hadn't been on anyone's radar screen. Trump had chosen to announce that the FBI had executed a search warrant, duly authorized by the federal judge, at Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago. He had spent the week purporting to angrily demand that the search warrant and the list of items seized by the FBI be released to the public -- even though he had these documents in hand and simply had to press "send" on his computer if he actually wanted Americans to see them.

He really didn't. The warrant, released after Attorney General Merrick Garland called Trump's bluff by asking the judge to disclose it, reflected a judicial finding of probable cause to believe that Trump had willfully and unlawfully concealed, removed or destroyed government records, knowingly destroyed or concealed documents with the intent to obstruct a federal investigation and, for the cherry on top, violated the Espionage Act.


Yes, the Espionage Act. Among the documents that Trump removed from the White House, then withheld in defiance of a subpoena, then apparently hid from the government, were highly classified materials, reportedly including documents relating to nuclear secrets.

You'd need a software program at this point to keep track of the evidence of Trump's criminality. It's all beginning to look like a first-year law student's criminal law exam: Here is the fact pattern. How many different crimes has this individual committed?

And who can forget the 10 separate federal crimes of obstruction of justice detailed in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's 2019 report that, it turns out, were just the hors d'oeuvres?

A great American, No. 45. Making America great, one crime at a time.


Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.

Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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