Former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr said in a new interview that Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents presents his most formidable legal challenge.
The former president is being investigated by special counsel Jack Smith, who was appointed by the Department of Justice (DOJ) this past November, for documents discovered last August at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, which were recovered by the FBI in a highly publicized retrieval effort. Meanwhile, Trump has maintained his innocence in the case.
During a CNN town hall earlier this month, Trump said he couldn’t recall whether he showed secret material to other individuals—quickly recanting a real-time response in which he said if he did, he had the authority to do so.
“I’ve said all along that of the cases out there right now, the one I’d be most concerned about, if I were the president, is the Mar-a-Lago document case,” Barr told CBS News’ Catherine Herridge on Thursday.
When asked why, Barr said it was due to the investigation not being largely focused “on intent or anything like that.”
“It’s very clear that he had no business having those documents,” the former attorney general added. “He was given a long time to send them back and he was—they were subpoenaed. And if there’s any games being played there, he’s going to be very exposed.”
Trump’s argument of “automatically” declassifying the classified documents when they were placed into boxes is not “gonna fly,” Barr said.
On Thursday, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) informed Trump that 16 records would be handed over to Smith, purportedly showing that the former president and his top advisers had knowledge of the correct declassification process while he was president, according to multiple sources who spoke with CNN.
Patricia Crouse, a political science practitioner in residence at the University of New Haven, told Newsweek via email on Friday that Barr may be correct regarding the classified documents case presenting the most straightforward prosecution.
“The law says you cannot simply remove classified documents from the White House when you leave, nor can you declare that they became ‘automatically declassified when I took them,’ as Trump did on national television at his CNN Town Hall,” Crouse said. “The DOJ (Department of Justice) can really just use his own words against him in this case.”
The legal and political ramifications differ, she added. In that regard, Crouse views the Georgia case—in which Trump is being investigated by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis—as arguably the biggest hurdle for the former president to overcome.
Willis’ investigation stems from a phone call the former president made to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pushed the secretary to “find” enough votes for him to inch ahead of Joe Biden, who won the state in a narrow victory in the 2020 election. Trump has also maintained his innocence in the case.
“I am not sure the average American voter cares a great deal about the removal of classified documents by Trump,” Crouse said. “I do think, however, they care about interfering with democratic elections because they take that much more personally.”
Barr’s Recent Criticism of Trump
Barr, who served as attorney general in both the George H.W. Bush and Trump administrations, has become increasingly more vocal about Trump since resigning in December 2020.
Earlier this month during a luncheon in Cleveland, Barr called the possibility of another Trump four-year term “a horror show” that would “deliver chaos,” due to the former president’s lack of discipline, and ability to think strategically and prioritize policy initiatives.
Following the release of the Durham Report—viewed by Trump and his allies as a type of exoneration and a blow to the FBI—Barr reiterated earlier this week that he does not want Trump to be the GOP nominee in 2024.
In special counsel John Durham’s 300-plus-page report on Monday, he said that “at the time of the opening of Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI had no information in its holdings indicating that at any time during the campaign anyone in the Trump campaign had been in contact with any Russian intelligence officials.”
“I only wish that Bill Barr, as the attorney general of the United States, was able to act,” Trump wrote Wednesday on Truth Social in response to Barr’s comment. “Sadly, he was afraid of the Radical Left Democrat Lunatics, and their constant threats against him of Impeachment, and was absolutely impotent on the subject of the Durham Report, he should have taken strong action. Even more importantly, he did nothing on the massive Voter Fraud which took place during the 2020 Presidential Election. Remember, you get NOTHING from RINOS. An honor to have fired him!”