Five takeaways from Trump’s post-arrest speech in Bedminster

Ex-president fumes over arrest after second criminal indictment

John Bowden
Washington DC
Friday 16 June 2023 18:48 BST
Donald Trump's spokesperson calls charges against former president politically motivated'

Donald Trump was in typical form on Tuesday evening as he appeared before a throng of supporters in Bedminster, New Jersey, to denounce his latest criminal indictment.

The ex-president delivered a roughly 30-minute address to a crowd of fans who descended upon the golf club to hear him swipe at political rivals and anyone else whose own actions he thought could be used to paint his own as harmless.

It was a rambling speech broken up by an impromptu singing of “Happy Birthday” from Mr Trump’s harmonically-challenged fans, whose rendition of the tune dissolved into a slurred mess by the conclusion.

But it was also revealing in that it previewed the roughshod defence that Mr Trump and his legal team apparently hope to make before a judge, as the former president aimed a shotgun-like spray of similar accusations at nearly every other prominent occupant of the White House of the past decade and a half.

So what can we learn from the former president’s remarks?

Trump didn’t do it. But Obama did, and Biden did, and … Cheney did?

The most interesting part of the ex-president’s remarks was certainly the firehose of accusations he aimed at his predecessors and successor in the White House. While none of the individual points he raised were particularly surprising, what was revealing was to hear them all together, hastily cobbled together in a sort of “everybody does it” defence.

It was a moment that underscored the frustration of Mr Trump and his apparent inability to see why his own situation is so different. The ex-president poured over Joe Biden’s trove of documents at his home and office, Bill Clinton’s possession of tape recordings that included his own personal thoughts on his work, and (of course) Hillary Clinton’s long-maligned private server, used to store emails from her time as secretary of State in violation of federal rules.

But in each case, the former president failed to make one key logical connection: the outright refusal of his team, for months, to return documents including classified materials to federal authorities who were certain that the pile in question was in Mr Trump’s possession. That’s one key factor that every other case failed to include — even in the case of Hillary Clinton, whom Mr Trump faulted for “acid-washing” her server, did not refuse to turn over classified documents once they were discovered. In her case, the documents were revealed to have been classified only after they had already been handed over to the FBI.

His inclusion of a throwaway anecdote about a paper shredder being spotted near former Vice President Dick Cheney’s house was the icing on top: Mr Trump is now resorting to making baseless suggestions of wrongdoing targeting fellow Republicans to save his own skin.

His first explanation for what supposedly happened

One of the few new angles of Donald Trump’s defense emerged during his remarks this evening: an explanation for exactly why the documents were apparently being stored in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom.

Calling the photos of his stacked boxes staged, Mr Trump insisted that the boxes were actually a collection of unorganised personal items taken from the White House, which supposedly included clothes, medical records and other objects. They remained stored in such a manner, Mr Trump told his eagerly-nodding crowd, because he is simply a busy man with too much time (and not enough groupies) to unpack those boxes and store the documents properly, even two years after his move from Washington.

Misconceptions about the Presidential Records Act

Citing case law involving Bill Clinton’s retention of recorded tapes from his days in the White House (a case which ended in Mr Clinton’s favour), Mr Trump once again insisted that he, as president, held the sole authority to retain personal documents, notes, and other records instead of returning them to the National Archives.

But he left out a few key details about the case, decided by Judge Amy Berman Jackson, which of course contradict his story.

Trump greets supporters in a cafe in Miami following his arraignment
Trump greets supporters in a cafe in Miami following his arraignment (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

For one, the records in question must be marked as personal documents at the time of their creation, not retroactively after a president leaves the White House. Secondly, a former litigation director for the Archives told Politifact about the issue, "[n]o prior case has held that a president has absolute discretion to designate official government records — classified or unclassified — as his own personal records."

The dispute over whether the documents themselves were personal records may be fought over in court at some point. But if reports about their contents are accurate, they included documents critical to US national defence efforts, which would make that argument difficult to make.

A vow to do exactly what he accused Biden of doing

Many Democrats in the age of Trump, battling their foes on social media, often quip that “accusations are admissions” — the idea that Mr Trump, and his allies, often project their own supposed misdeeds when lobbing baseless allegations at others.

There was certainly an argument to be made for that theme playing out in Mr Trump’s speech on Tuesday evening. Directly referencing his prior rantings on Truth Social, he vowed for the first time in public: “The seal is broken by what they’ve done… On November 5, 2024, justice will be done.”

He had previously written, using the same metaphor of a broken seal, that he would appoint a special prosecutor to specifically target the Biden family. That appears to be an official campaign promise now — to weaponise the Department of Justice against Democrats, and ending the agency’s independence from the White House.

Fox tries to crawl back into the good graces of Trump fans

If Donald Trump was hoping to be the talk of the night on Twitter, he may be surprised to learn of his upstaging by none other than Fox News, the network which recently was forced to make a massive settlement with Dominion Voting Systems over its role in spreading Mr Trump’s 2020 conspiracies.

Fox News chyron calls Biden ‘wannabe dictator’ while Trump plays down charges over mishandling nuclear secrets
Fox News chyron calls Biden ‘wannabe dictator’ while Trump plays down charges over mishandling nuclear secrets (Screen grab)

The network was the only of the big three to carry Mr Trump live, but for portions of his remarks displayed a split-screen showing Mr Trump speaking on one side and his opponent, Joe Biden, hosting a White House event on the other half.

That wasn’t the big deal, though: A Fox producer, apparently feeling the burn of their massive viewership slide in the wake of Tucker Carlson’s firing, chose Tuesday evening as the time to take the gloves off and eject their network completely from the realm of objective news coverage with a chyron, referring to Biden, declaring “Wannabe dictator speaks at the White House after having his political rival arrested”.

It was a clear play for attention that worked to some degree as journalists quickly posted screenshots about the network’s display (and wrote long-winded paragraphs about it, too). The network finally addressed it nearly 12 hours later, claiming it was taken down “immediately”.

“The chyron was taken down immediately and was addressed,” said a Fox spokesperson.

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