Mar-a-Lago classified papers probe further complicates Trump’s legal troubles

The former president may have seen a popularity boost in the wake of the indictment, but he is facing other investigations that may affect his 2024 White House bid

Donald Trump delivers a speech in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, after being arraigned in New York.
Macarena Vidal Liy

Applause, welcome signs, cheers and a room packed with supporters who drank in every word of a speech filled with claims about alleged political persecution. The place was Donald Trump’s Florida residence Mar-a-Lago. The time was Tuesday night, after the former president was charged in a New York court of 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Trump, as a candidate in the Republican presidential primaries, has opted for a strategy that so far appears to be paying off: presenting himself as the victim of political persecution that extends to the courts. But Trump, as a man indicted, may find that this argument is difficult to hold up as other investigations — such as the probe into classified papers he took from the White House to his Florida home — quietly move forward, meaning he could face new charges before the Republican primaries begin.

Trump may be riding high now, but things could change. The real estate mogul is still facing several criminal investigations and civil cases. According to experts, some of these probes have much stronger legal grounds than the New York case into hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign to cover up an alleged extramarital affair. Experts say the outcome of that case may depend on how the laws are interpreted.

In recent weeks, some of these pending investigations have advanced significantly — so much so that Trump may even be indicted before December 4, when he is next scheduled to appear in court in Manhattan over the Stormy Daniels case.

The probe that appears to have made the most progress is Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into classified documents the FBI found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home last year — three months after the Department of Justice (DOJ) ordered Trump’s lawyers to return any classified material that the former president had in his possession after leaving the White House. FBI agents found more than a hundred documents marked classified.

And on Wednesday, there was another reminder that Trump’s legal troubles extend beyond the Stormy Daniels case. His former vice president, Michael Pence, announced that he will comply with a subpoena and testify before a grand jury in another investigation led by Smith. This probe is investigating Trump’s role in the assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and his efforts to prevent the transfer of power to the 2020 election winner, Joe Biden.

Polls favor Trump

But the polls are looking good for Trump, despite his legal woes. An Ipsos poll released on Monday found that 51% of U.S. voters accept Trump’s claims that his legal problems are the result of political persecution. Meanwhile, the coffers of his electoral campaign have received a constant flow of donations. His campaign raised $4 million in the 24 hours after it was announced Thursday that the grand jury had voted to indict the former president, and $3 million more before he was arraigned on Tuesday. What’s more, 25% of donations are from first-time donors to the Trump campaign.

The former president was already the undisputed favorite to win the Republican Party’s candidacy for the 2024 presidential elections. And now, he has taken an even greater lead. The Ipsos poll — the first to be released since the indictment — found that 48% of Republican voters want Trump to be the presidential candidate, compared to 44% before the indictment. Support for his closest rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, has fallen from 30% to 19%.

Trump’s popularity with the public has also extended to the media. Big news networks dedicated special programming to his court hearing in New York, and also aired in full his speech at Mar-a-Lago — an increasingly rare occurrence in an era where networks are fiercely competing for fragmented audiences.

In this context, the space for other Republican presidential hopefuls to throw their hat in the ring and challenge Trump has become increasingly narrow. DeSantis, who was expected to announce a 2024 White House run before the indictment, has not even confirmed that he will make a bid. The other Republicans who have already announced their intention to run — such as former Governor Nikki Halley and billionaire Vivek Ramaswamy — are barely on voters’ radar, polling at less than 10%.

But these favorable winds can change. If Trump is indicted in several, unrelated and differing cases, it would be harder for him to convince Republican voters that he is a victim of a political witch hunt. It would also make it very difficult for him to win over independent voters, who are key for any candidate who wants to reach the White House.

According to The Washington Post, Jack Smith — the special prosecutor investigating the case of the classified documents — has secured the testimony of one of Trump’s aides at Mar-a-Lago. This testimony states that Trump ordered the boxes of classified documents to be moved after he received the notice to return all White House papers. According to the aide, the former president also personally examined the papers, driven by the apparent desire to keep some.

The aide’s statements coincide with what is shown by recordings from closed-circuit cameras in Mar-a-Lago, according to The Washington Post, which cited sources close to the investigation. If confirmed, this information would support the claim that Trump intentionally obstructed justice to keep classified documents.

Under U.S. law, all outgoing presidents must hand over the documents they handled during their term to the National Archives. Even so, it is not uncommon for some papers to be misplaced and appear later. The current president, Joe Biden, is also under investigation by a special prosecutor after a series of papers were found in his private home and an old office. Whether this constitutes a crime depends on why the documents were not handed over.

In addition to the federal investigations, Trump also has another case pending in Georgia over his alleged attempts to interfere in the state’s 2020 presidential election. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, who is a Democrat, plans to decide whether to indict the former president in the coming weeks.

Trump, meanwhile, is remaining defiant. Although the Stormy Daniels case is in the hands of the New York courts, the former president has attacked the entire justice system and the FBI. “REPUBLICANS IN CONGRESS SHOULD DEFUND THE DOJ AND FBI UNTIL THEY COME TO THEIR SENSES,” he posted on his social media platform Truth Social.

It is unlikely that any other American politician could succeed with this attitude — let alone make a run for the White House after being indicted. But Trump is not a typical politician. He is a master of chaos and disruption, who knows how to perfectly read his audience and take advantage of any loophole to get ahead.

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