Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington, DC, shares his analysis on US politics.
How bad does the Mar-a-Lago document situation have to get before it becomes a problem for President Trump?
The answer is very bad and probably much worse than what we know of today. In the three weeks since the raid at Mar-a-Lago, we've learned very little about the contents of the documents that former President Trump is alleged to have improperly been storing in his Florida compound.
But we have learned, at a minimum, he kept classified documents outside of a secure facility. And the government is now alleging that Trump's legal team lied about the number and nature of the documents being stored there, which made it much more difficult for them to get the documents back and set up the premises for this sensational raid at Mar-a-Lago.
Even though he continues to maintain that he declassified at least some of the documents stored at his residence, the facts laid out by law enforcement so far don't look good for former President Trump. And even elected Republican officials, who rallied to his support and attacked the FBI in the wake of the raid, are much quieter than they were initially. But polling continues to show that President Trump is strong. A recent Ipsos poll found that Trump is more popular in the Republican Party than President Biden is in the Democratic Party, with 59% of Republicans saying Trump should be the Presidential nominee in 2024, versus only 44% of Democrats who want Biden to be their nominee.
Can Trump be charged? Well, that's a question for the DOJ, who will have to measure the political and institutional implications of charging a former and potentially future president, the risks of federal law enforcement being delegitimized and seen as political actors by huge parts of the country, the way they were after investigations into Hillary Clinton's emails and the Trump campaigns alleged ties with Russia. And they'll have to weigh the chances of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that not only were these papers improperly stored, but that President Trump himself, and not one of his staff or associates, was criminally responsible for the improper handling.
This still seems like a very tall order that would play out in a trial that would take place in the middle of a presidential campaign that is likely to start as soon as this November. Almost anyone else surely would be charged with a crime based on what we know today. But for years now, Trump has avoided the kinds of political and legal liabilities and consequences that would've brought other people down. And so far, this doesn't look much different. Thanks for watching. This has been US Politics In a Little Over 60 Seconds.