Former President Donald Trump never misses an opportunity to twist reality for his own benefit. Even when presented with a perfectly viable truth that he can use to his advantage, he’d still prefer to spin a tall tale on top of it. There’s nothing that Trump won’t embellish if there’s a chance it makes him look just a little better off or sound a little more impressive.
Case in point: Special counsel Robert Hur’s report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents during his years as a private citizen is plenty damaging on its own. The lengthy report was unusually harsh in its criticisms of Biden, and Hur’s sharp comments about the president’s age have the Democratic political class in a panic since the report’s release last Thursday. But rather than use Hur’s words as a weapon against Biden, Trump has warped them into a shield to defend himself.
Rather than use Hur’s words as a weapon against Biden, Trump has warped them into a shield to defend himself.
“It was just announced that Joe Biden’s Department of Injustice will bring zero charges against crooked Joe despite the fact he willfully retained undisclosed droves of ultra-classified national security documents,” Trump said at a National Rifle Association event on Friday. Bombast aside, that statement is remarkably accurate by Trumpian standards. Hur wrote in his report that there was “evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen.” Hur also said that though there was enough proof to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, even if Biden wasn’t president, he would not recommend bringing charges against him.
But Trump kept going. “If Biden is not going to be charged, he said, that’s up to them, you know, look, if he’s not going to be charged, that’s up to them, but then I should not be charged,” he told the crowd. In case you’d forgotten, included among the many criminal charges that Trump now faces are ones that stem from his own handling of classified materials after leaving office. Special counsel Jack Smith obtained a grand jury indictment against Trump last year for hoarding presidential documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and — unlike Biden — impeding the attempts to retrieve them.
The case against Trump focuses mostly on allegations that he continuously lied and obstructed the investigation. It was only after the FBI executed a warrant to search the grounds that the Department of Justice retrieved dozens of documents that he’d refused to return. Eight of the 40 charges that Smith alleges against Trump are related to the cover-up attempt as a whole; each of the rest corresponds to a document that Trump possessed after the DOJ issued a subpoena for them. In contrast, Hur’s report made clear that after his appointment last January Biden was nothing but cooperative throughout the investigation.
Trump also told the NRA attendees that Biden is “not under the Presidential Records Act, which is a big thing, I am. It’s a protective act.” Whether Biden’s actions as a former vice president were covered by the provisions of the PRA is a total red herring. Despite what Trump has repeatedly tried to claim, the Presidential Records Act says that he couldn’t keep the documents that were recovered from Mar-a-Lago without first handing them over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
With the Hur report’s release, Trump has been provided with a chance to invent brand new falsehoods.
The distortion echoes Trump’s swift insistence that another special counsel report — that of Robert Mueller — was a “total exoneration,” based solely on a summary released by his own attorney general. The full report, however, made clear that it was likely only the office of the presidency that kept Trump from being charged. By then, though, the narrative had set in, and it will be nearly impossible to shake that talking point from his supporters’ heads.
And like those lies, his repeated contention that he did nothing wrong — or, as he said Friday, that the case is “nothing more than selective prosecution of Biden’s political opponent: me” — has taken root among Republicans. Not long after his indictment in the case, just 50% of Republicans polled in a Marquette Law School survey believed that he didn’t even have classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. In a YouGov poll last month, just 20% of Republicans said they believe the classified documents case has been conducted fairly.
Smith has frustratedly tried to set the record straight in recent court filings how intensely obstructive Trump was during the investigation, but it’s done little to prevent the former president from repeating the same set of falsehoods. Now with the Hur report’s release, Trump has been provided with a chance to invent brand new ones. And yet, it’s entirely on brand of him that when presented with such a potential political gift, Trump can’t help but gild the lily with a thick coat of lies.