Expert: Jack Smith subpoena for foreign deals suggests DOJ concerned Trump tried to “monetize” docs

"There is a whole other set of potential criminal charges,” says Neal Katyal

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published May 23, 2023 8:44AM (EDT)

Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Donald Trump (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Special counsel Jack Smith's team issued a subpoena for information about former President Donald Trump's foreign deals since he took office, according to The New York Times.

Smith's team overseeing the investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago has "cast a wider net than previously understood as they scrutinize whether he broke the law" by taking documents home from the White House and failing to comply with a subpoena for their return, according to the report.

The subpoena specifically sought details on the Trump Organization's real estate licensing and development deals in China, Saudi Araba, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman and France dating back to 2017.

The Trump Organization vowed not to make any foreign deals while Trump was at the White House and the only known deal was with a Saudi-based real estate company to license the Trump name to a residential, hotel and golf complex in Oman last fall.

Smith's team also subpoenaed Trump Organization records related to Trump's dealings with the Saudi-backed golf company LIV Golf.

"While the Trump Organization has, for decades, been a global real estate empire, we made a strict pledge to not enter in any new foreign deals while President Trump was in office, a commitment that the company fully complied with," a Trump Organization spokesperson said in a statement to CNN.

The subpoena suggests Smith's team is looking at potential connections between Trump's foreign deals and the classified documents. It's unclear whether the Trump Organization has turned over the materials sought by the subpoena or whether Smith has any other evidence to back the theory, according to the Times, which noted that prosecutors have sought to understand "not only what sorts of materials Mr. Trump removed from the White House, but also why he might have taken them with him."

Documents related to some Middle Eastern countries, China, and French President Emmanuel Macron were among those recovered from Mar-a-Lago.

"Following the money is a fairly common practice in any white collar case, but when it comes to classified documents and foreign business ties, alarm bells go off," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade.

Former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, said the subpoena suggests Smith's case against Trump has "gotten even stronger."

"Basically, the background here is the prosecutor's fear, the public's fear, that Donald Trump monetizes everything," he told MSNBC. "He monetized Jan. 6th, of all things. He monetizes his impeachment and the like. So, I think the prosecutor's concern here has been when he took these highly sensitive classified documents, was he trying to monetize those as well?"

The DOJ has long looked at potential violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction statutes in the case but "what this says is perhaps there is even more," Katyal said.

"There is a whole other set of potential criminal charges," he said.

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Former Justice Department official Mary McCord said prosecutors are undoubtedly looking at "why would he be obstructing if they are thinking of bringing an obstruction charge."

"If you're DOJ, you're looking for the why, because you've got to be able to tell a jury you do bring a case, why," she told MSNBC. "What is the modus operandi, what is the intent, and following the money, following possible places of vulnerability and weakness that might have motivated Trump to do some of the things that it's looking like there may be evidence that he did, that is, have boxes moved, attempt to obstruct justice. That's going to be a focus of the investigation."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Jack Smith Mar-a-lago Politics