Legal experts: Trump attorneys may throw him under the bus after DOJ moves to hold them in contempt

Ex-US Attorney predicts lawyers "will point the fingers at others and ultimately Trump" because he keeps lying

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published December 9, 2022 11:37AM (EST)

Donald Trump | Mar A Lago (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump | Mar A Lago (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The Justice Department is asking a federal judge to hold former President Donald Trump's legal team in contempt of court for failing to comply with a subpoena issued this summer ordering him to return all classified documents in his possession, sources told The Washington Post.

U.S. District Court Judge Beryl Howell has not yet held a hearing or ruled on the DOJ's request, which came months after Trump's lawyers assured the department that a search had been conducted for classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence, before the FBI later executed a court-authorized search that led to the discovery of more than 100 documents marked as classified. Trump's team recently reportedly found two additional items marked classified at a Florida storage locker after Howell ordered them to keep looking.

Trump's legal team has refused to designate a custodian of records to sign a document attesting that all classified materials have been returned to the federal government. This has remained a key area of disagreement in the matter after Trump attorney Christina Bobb signed a declaration affirming that all documents had been returned over the summer — before the DOJ discovered additional documents.

The former president's team has taken the position that such a request is unreasonable.

"President Trump and his counsel continue to cooperate and be transparent, despite the unprecedented, illegal, and unwarranted attacks by the weaponized Department of Justice," Trump spokesperson Steven Cheung said in a statement to the Post.

Trump is under investigation for three potential crimes, including mishandling classified documents, obstruction and destruction of government records.

"What the DOJ is trying to do is simply get an answer... from some person to say yes, you have all of [the classified documents]... and I can't being to imagine how long this has taken to finally percolate to the stage where DOJ is asking for this," former FBI official Peter Strzok told MSNBC

After the raid, Howell ordered Trump's legal team to conduct a search for more records, which reportedly uncovered two more classified documents around Thanksgiving in a storage unit in West Palm Beach, Fla, according to the Post.

Searches at other Trump properties, including his Bedminster golf course in New Jersey and at Trump Tower in Manhattan, did not yield any records, according to the report.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman predicted that attorneys like Bobb and fellow Trump lawyer Evan Corcoran will "will point the fingers at others and ultimately Trump in seeking to excuse their  noncompliance."

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"Part of the dynamic with the Trump Team contempt motion is that the lawyers are afraid to sign certifications of compliance, given that their client can't be trusted," Litman wrote on Twitter. "There's a poetic justice to the fact that Team Trump can't even comply with a subpoena, a simple act which defendants, and anyone else, do every day, because of fault lines leading in all directions to Trump's dishonesty," he added.

"If you represented Trump, you wouldn't want to certify under oath that he returned all the classified materials either," quipped former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. 

New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman agreed that Trump's attorneys had good reason to be nervous given that their earlier declaration was proven to be false.

"This just reached a whole new level of seriousness," he tweeted, noting that the DOJ motion "adds significantly to the likelihood of indictments."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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