Posting on his embattled social media platform Truth Social, former President Donald Trump contradicted his previous claims and those of his right-wing media allies that the FBI could have planted classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort. Instead, Trump said, the illegally retained government records had been neatly stored in boxes.
Trump’s misstep came in response to a photo included in a recent Justice Department filing, which showed classified documents with cover sheets clearly marked “top secret” arranged on the floor next to a storage box, along with an evidence sign marked “2A” and a square ruler to provide visual scale. The government’s legal filing also described the documents as having been “recovered from a container in the ‘45 office.’”
The photo became a focus of criticism by right-wing media commentators, including Fox News contributor Jason Chaffetz, Fox host Jeanine Pirro, and others such as such Fox legal analyst Jonathan Turley, Washington Examiner correspondent Byron York, and Washington Post columnist Hugh Hewitt, who all criticized the FBI or suggested the photo had been staged intentionally to make it appear as if Trump had left the documents on the floor. (Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk used his podcast to claim the photo contained coded messages to frighten Trump supporters.)
Trump then posted Wednesday on his Truth Social site alleging that the FBI had intended to make it look like he had kept these documents on the floor himself. Instead, he said, the agents “took them out of cartons.”
Trump also reposted a quote from Sean Davis, CEO of the right-wing website The Federalist, attacking the FBI agents for having “seized [the documents] from storage, dumped them all over the floor.”
Putting it simply, Trump just admitted on his own social media platform that he indeed had these documents in storage at Mar-a-Lago, despite his legal team’s previous sworn assurance to the FBI that he had returned all documents with classification markings covered by a previous subpoena.
Trump’s apparent confession has drawn attention from legal experts relied upon by mainstream media outlets:
Law professor and former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann tweeted Wednesday evening that Trump’s “uninhibited mouthing off is actually serving to make the criminal case against him stronger,” and that Trump’s post was “a damning admission, not a defense.”
Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti also tweeted Wednesday that Trump had just admitted to evidence of his own guilt. “It would be like a defendant taking issue with a FBI photo showing bricks of cocaine on the floor of his residence instead of ‘in cartons,’” Mariotti wrote. “It admits possession.”
Former FBI special agent and Just Security editor Asha Rangappa also tweeted Thursday morning, rhetorically asking whether Trump understood that “the FBI is continuing to collect evidence, including of his personal knowledge that he still had classified docs outside of the storage room, which would constitute obstruction?”
MSNBC prime-time host Chris Hayes spoke with conservative attorney George Conway, who described Trump as having a “deranged, defective personality” and being “self-destructive to the core,” to which Hayes offered Trump’s post as the latest example. “‘They’re in my office.’ Like, you just admitted it,” Hayes said. “Oh, my God, he admitted it.” Conway then replied: “Yeah, he’s guilty.”
- Former U.S. attorney Joyce Vance argued on Thursday morning’s edition of MSNBC’s José Díaz-Balart Reports, that Trump’s comments “will definitely come back to haunt him” both in the Justice Department’s determination of whether to indict him and at any criminal trial if there is an indictment. Vance further added that “by walking through this series of stories, he has now in essence admitted and acknowledged that he was in possession of classified material at Mar-a-Lago, that he kept presidential papers at Mar-a-Lago, and those are confessions he will never be able to roll back.”
- Former FBI special agent Greg Ehrie explained on the Thursday edition of CNN’s New Day that he has conducted searches and been involved with photos just like this one. “It wasn't a staged photo; it was a classic evidentiary photo,” said Ehrie. “But the fact that the former president has now seemingly admitted that, ‘OK, this did come from a container in my residence,’ is certainly legally problematic.”
- Former House Judiciary Committee special counsel Norm Eisen also explained on New Day that the “last key issue” in determining whether to charge Trump would be whether the government could prove his intent: “Well, guess what? He just provided — by admitting that he knew they were in the cartons — he just provided the government with more proof that, yes, he was involved in this.”
- Former New York City prosecutor Paul Callan also appeared on CNN Newsroom. Asked about Trump’s post, Callan said: “It is material in the sense that it’s confirmation that he had in his possession these highly classified documents. And even if he, you know, waved a magic wand over them and said they're not classified, they're still defense and military information, and there are statutes making it a crime for somebody to hold or conceal those documents.”