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How Will Trump's Lawyers Defend Him?

So far, Donald Trump is being represented in the Mar-a-Lago documents case by Todd Blanche, a former Manhattan prosecutor, and Chris Kise, a former Florida solicitor general whose specialty is civil cases, not criminal cases. However, it is believed that Trump is trying to strengthen his legal team by adding an actual criminal defense lawyer, if he can find one. This is proving difficult because numerous top Florida lawyers have already turned him down, either because they fear he won't pay them or they fear he won't listen to them or both. Also, many lawyers know that they will have to deal with Boris Epshteyn, who worked as a corporate lawyer for 18 months but thinks he is the world's best criminal defense lawyer. In addition, three of Trump's lawyers—Tim Parlatore, Jim Trusty, and John Rowley—have left his team recently, which makes other lawyers very nervous.

Absent a new top lawyer, Blanche and Kise are left to prepare Trump's defense. Here are some of the likely approaches they will take:

A lot of what the lawyers will do is focus on process, not content. Trump clearly had documents he had no business having. That will be hard to refute, so they are probably going to talk about mistakes the other side made that invalidate evidence and stuff like that, rather than arguing that taking secret defense documents after you leave office is one of the perks of the presidency.

Somewhat ironically, Trump wouldn't be needing a defense if he hadn't been as stubborn as the rear end of a pig. In the fall of 2022, Trump hired Christopher Kise as his lawyer. Trump paid Kise $3 million upfront, so he must have had some regard for Kise's skills. Kise immediately got to work and wanted to negotiate with AG Merrick Garland to "take the temperature down," give Garland what he wanted, and hopefully avoid all charges. Trump refused to follow Kise's advice and stonewalled. Kise never talked to Garland and the AG appointed Jack Smith as a special prosecutor a few months later. There is no guarantee that Kise could have made a deal with Garland, but Trump didn't even allow him to try. It is noteworthy that Trump was not charged with possession of any of the documents he did return to the National Archives, only the ones he hid in his bathroom and elsewhere. If Kise had said to Garland: "We will vacate Mar-a-Lago and your people can search the place from top to bottom for as long as you want," Trump might well have escaped charges. But being a big bully has worked his entire life, so Trump figured it would work again.

What is still unclear is why Trump wanted to keep the documents. If he was planning to blackmail the U.S. government by threatening to sell them to Russia, China, or Iran if they indicted him, it appears he didn't even try. If he was planning to sell them to the highest bidder, the auction apparently didn't get any bids, because he still had them. If they had been safely stored in Moscow, the FBI wouldn't have found anything when they executed the search warrant. If Trump wanted them for bragging rights and to show friends (assuming he has any), just keeping two or three would do the job. All we can think of is he was thinking: "Who can stop me from keeping them?" Using them to blackmail the U.S. or sell them to Putin makes some sense from Trump's perspective, but it now doesn't appear that is why he kept them. Nor does it make any sense that he refused to let Kise try to get him off the hook by negotiating with Garland. It is hard to fathom what Trump was thinking. (V)

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