Donald Trump’s former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani on Thursday appeared to admit that Mr Trump had classified documents that are the property of the US government, during an appearance on the right-wing Newsmax television network.
Mr Giuliani, who is currently facing disbarment for making false statements in the course of his representation of the ex-president during his push to overturn the 2020 election, was attempting to defend Mr Trump when he said the Espionage Act — the law FBI agents said may have been violated when they asked for a warrant to search Mr Trump’s home — was “really not about taking the documents”.
“It’s about destroying them or hiding them or giving them to the enemy. It’s not about taking them and putting them in a place that’s roughly as safe as they were in in the first place,” he said.
The ex-New York City mayor also said the Department of Justice officials investigating the classified documents which FBI agents found at Mr Trump’s home “want to make him responsible for having taken classified documents and preserve [sic] them”.
Mr Giuliani’s suggestion that the Espionage Act did not punish “taking” classified documents from the secure facilities where they are legally required to be maintained drew immediate ridicule from a prominent national security law expert, attorney Bradley Moss.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Moss said: “This is 100% false”.
In fact, the section of the US criminal code referenced in the FBI’s application for a search warrant at Mr Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida home makes it a crime for anyone “entrusted with or having lawful possession or control of any document ... relating to the national defense” to “[permit] the same to be removed from its proper place of custody” with “gross negligence”.
The former Trump attorney’s claim that the ex-president was attempting to preserve documents by keeping them from the National Archives — where all records from his former administration were supposed to be deposited when his term expired in January 2021 — is just the latest in a series of shifting excuses and explanations for why FBI agents found at least 11 boxes of documents belonging to the government during the search of Mr Trump’s home.
The day after the search, Mr Trump initially claimed that FBI agents may have “planted” evidence of criminal conduct at his home. After reports emerged that the FBI was looking for highly classified documents pertaining to nuclear weapons, Mr Trump derided the reports as part of a “hoax” and denied any classified documents were at his residence.
After the unsealing of the receipt the FBI gave his attorney, which showed that agents recovered documents marked as containing “sensitive compartmented information” — one of the highest levels of classification — a conservative journalist allied with the ex-president claimed he had a “standing order” to declassify any document he took from the West Wing during his term.
Mr Trump’s third national security adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, told the New York Times that the claim of a standing declassification order was “almost certainly a lie”.
"When somebody begins to concoct lies like this, it shows a real level of desperation,” he added.