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In His Post-Arraignment Speech, Trump Piles on More Lies

You can fault the indictment, but you can't defend Trump.
April 5, 2023
In His Post-Arraignment Speech, Trump Piles on More Lies
“Trump Lies All the Time”: A red-hat-wearing supporter of Donald Trump argues with critics outside the Manhattan District Attorney's office in New York City on April 4, 2023. (Photo by Leonardo Muñoz / AFP / Getty Images)

The indictment of Donald Trump for falsifying business records, unveiled on Tuesday by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, has problems. It focuses on consensual adultery, it combines multiple statutes in a novel way, and it seems to rely on federal campaign laws that generally aren’t prosecuted by local officials.

You could argue, based on any of these points, that the indictment is unwise or that Trump should be acquitted. But in a post-arraignment speech at Mar-a-Lago, Trump made it clear that he won’t settle for partial or technical objections. He demands not just a rejection of the indictment, but acceptance of numerous lies about this investigation and several others. He’s making it more and more difficult for Republicans to defend him.

Here are some of the fictions Trump peddled in his speech.

1. Everyone agrees there’s no crime involved. “Virtually everybody that has looked at this case, including RINOs and even hardcore Democrats, say there is no crime,” Trump told his audience.

Trump has it backward: Most legal analysts, and even some leading Republicans, agree that the indictment’s statement of facts does point to evidence of crimes. The problem with this evidence is that it applies to the misdemeanor version of business-record falsification—not to the felony version, which requires demonstration of a separate crime that was the purpose of the falsification. Prudent critics of the indictment argue that it tries, unconvincingly, to inflate the misdemeanors into felonies. But Trump seems to reject that distinction.

2. Bragg and other prosecutors targeted Trump without any basis. Bragg “campaigned on the fact that he would get President Trump,” said Trump. He asserted that Bragg did so “before he knew anything about me. Didn’t know a thing about me.” The former president leveled the same accusation against New York Attorney General Letitia James. She “vowed to use every area of the law to, quote, ‘investigate President Trump and his business transactions,’” said Trump. He claimed that James said this “before knowing anything at all about me.”

Wrong. Bragg and James made those statements long after evidence incriminating Trump was well known. Michael Cohen, the former Trump lawyer at the center of the case, pleaded guilty and publicly implicated Trump in August 2018. That was four months before James made the statement Trump quoted, and it was ten months before Bragg announced his candidacy for D.A. Bragg and James targeted Trump because they already knew a lot about his alleged criminal activity.

3. The indictment is part of a Democratic conspiracy to steal elections. Trump told his Mar-a-Lago audience that the indictment was just another plot to sabotage him politically, alongside “the millions of votes illegally stuffed into ballot boxes and all caught on government cameras” in 2020.

Come on, man. Trump’s tales of ballot stuffing caught on camera have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked.

4. Trump is innocent of everything, including a corrupt phone call to Georgia. In his speech, the former president complained that a district attorney in Atlanta was “doing everything in her power to indict me over an absolutely perfect phone call” on January 2, 2021. In that phone call, Trump had pressed Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state, to “find” enough votes to decertify Joe Biden’s victory in that state and transfer Georgia’s electoral votes to Trump.

Trump told his audience on Tuesday that during the call, there were “many people on the phone, including lots of lawyers. Nobody found anything wrong with that perfect call until a book promotion tour many months later.”

Hogwash. An audio recording shows that during the call, Raffensperger and his attorney repeatedly told Trump that his tales of election fraud were phony. It also shows that Trump threatened Raffensperger with prosecution: “That’s a criminal offense. . . . That’s a big risk to you and to Ryan, your lawyer.” And a day after the recording came out, Georgia’s Republican lieutenant governor publicly denounced the call as “inappropriate.”

5. Trump fully cooperated in returning classified documents from Mar-a-Lago. In his speech, Trump asserted his innocence in the investigation of documents he had failed to return to the government after taking them to his Florida estate. He complained that critics were falsely accusing him of “obstructing” the document recovery, “which I’m not. Because I was working with NARA [the National Archives and Records Administration] very nicely until the raid on my home.”

Again, he’s lying. On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that investigators had found “new and significant evidence” that after Trump received a subpoena to hand over all remaining files, he “looked through the contents of some of the boxes of documents in his home, apparently out of a desire to keep certain things in his possession.” The Post reported that based on “witness statements, security camera footage, and other documentary evidence,” “boxes including classified material were moved from a Mar-a-Lago storage area after the subpoena was served,” and “Trump personally examined at least some of those boxes.”

According to the Post article, “Investigators have also amassed evidence indicating that Trump told others to mislead government officials in early 2022, before the subpoena, when [NARA] was working with the Justice Department to try to recover a wide range of papers.” Furthermore, “prosecutors have collected evidence that Trump ignored requests from multiple advisers to return the documents” and that “he asked advisers and lawyers to release false statements claiming he had returned all documents.”

6. Trump automatically declassified the documents at Mar-a-Lago just by taking them. “As president, I have the right to declassify documents, and the process is automatic if I take them with me,” Trump declared on Tuesday. “It’s automatic: declassified.”

Baloney. Declassification is a bureaucratic process that requires written specification, even when ordered by the president. Courts have found no evidence that Trump declassified the documents, and their precedents don’t support his asserted power to magically declassify files without telling anyone.

This is the problem with defending Trump. You might start with a case against him that has serious flaws—that’s my view of the indictment in Manhattan—but Trump won’t allow you to just talk about those flaws. He’s a pathological narcissist and liar. He demands total allegiance. He insists that you accept all his fabrications and fantasies. He lies baldly about every investigation: Manhattan, Georgia, Mar-a-Lago, January 6th, and whatever else comes along.

The reason why all these prosecutors are investigating Trump isn’t some grand conspiracy to destroy an innocent man. The reason is that he’s a crook. He lies, he cheats, he conspires, he fabricates, he extorts. And he’ll go on lying and fabricating—creating new headaches for the lawyers and apologists who keep trying to clean up after him—until they figure out that they can’t stop him from being what he is.

William Saletan

William Saletan is a writer at The Bulwark.