“His lawyers are feeling desperate”: Experts say Trump’s own attorneys expect him to be charged

Letter to AG Merrick Garland suggests "Trump's lawyers believe an indictment is coming soon," says Barb McQuade

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published May 24, 2023 3:06PM (EDT)

Donald Trump with the Department of Justice in the background (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Donald Trump with the Department of Justice in the background (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Donald Trump's legal team on Tuesday asked to meet with Attorney General Merrick Garland regarding the work of special counsel Jack Smith, who is handling investigations into the former president. 

Trump's lawyers John Rowley and James Trusty sent the letter so that they "could present arguments that Trump should not be charged in the investigation related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents," sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

"As I read this letter, it's a sign that Trump is about to be charged on the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case and that his lawyers are feeling desperate about it," Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and CNN legal analyst, told Salon. "I think they are also attempting to start ticking up a fuss to alert Trump's followers for political and fundraising purposes."

The letter, which Trump posted to Truth Social, argued that Trump is "being treated unfairly" unlike President Joe Biden's family.

"No President of the United States has ever, in the history of our country, been baselessly investigated in such an outrageous and unlawful fashion," the letter said. "We request a meeting at your earliest convenience to discuss the ongoing injustice that is being perpetrated by your Special Counsel and his prosecutors."

Garland, who appointed Smith as a special counsel last November, assigned him to oversee two investigations by the Justice Department. The first pertains to Trump's involvement in the Capitol attack on January 6th and the second examines Trump's retention of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after leaving office.

Recent reports indicate that Smith is in the final stages of concluding the latter investigation, for which he managed to obtain testimony from various individuals with close ties to the ex-president. Among them is Evan Corcoran, the attorney who falsely claimed in a letter last summer that there were no remaining classified materials at Mar-a-Lago.

"The whole idea of appointing the Special Counsel was to take the investigation of Trump — a political rival of President Biden – out of the hands of Biden's Department of Justice," said Faith Gay, former federal prosecutor and founding partner of Selendy Gay Elsberg. "For Attorney General Garland to interfere now with Special Counsel Smith's work now would fly in the face of the rationale of separating the investigation of a candidate for president from supervision by the appointee of his political rival." 

Legal experts have also suggested that the letter indicates that Trump is concerned that he will soon be facing an indictment as Smith wraps up his investigation into Trump's handling of classified documents.

"The language of the letter, referring to Hunter Biden and complaining about perceived unfairness, is clearly written for the public," former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor, told Salon. "But it suggests to me that Trump's lawyers believe an indictment is coming soon. Lawyers often request a meeting at this stage to try to negotiate some resolution, but Trump's lawyers may feel the need to talk tough to project strength and avoid any appearance of conciliation."

Trump's legal team did not indicate in the letter the specific investigation they wanted to address nor did they include any specific accusations of misconduct against Smith and his team. 

"It also seems to me that Garland would likely tell Trump's lawyers they need to meet with the special counsel, not Garland. Smith may want to meet with Trump's lawyers to see whether they can offer any new information or explore a resolution," McQuade said. "DOJ is interested in justice, not conquest."

The former president has continued to attack the investigation, claiming that it is part of an alleged Democratic scheme to prevent him from serving as president again. 

Trump criticized Smith and referred to his team as a "group of thugs" at a CNN town hall earlier this month and said he "had every right to under the Presidential Records Act" to take documents from the White House after he left office.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

The Justice Department has been conducting an investigation into the retention of sensitive records since last year after the National Archives found 15 boxes of materials from when Trump served as president. 

The FBI eventually carried out a search of Mar-a-Lago last August and found over 100 documents that were labeled as classified at Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.

Since the search, Trump and his legal team have found additional classified documents and have received more subpoenas.

Trump's close associates are "bracing for his indictment and anticipate being able to fundraise off a prosecution," The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

"The desire to meet with DOJ when your client is about to be charged is standard, but what's unusual here is that the potential defendant is a former president who has tens of millions of very active supporters," Eisen said. "The fact that the letter is posted on Truth Social shows that he is yet again, trying to tap into their political and financial and emotional support upon which he relies."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

MORE FROM Areeba Shah

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Donald Trump Furthering Jack Smith Mar-a-lago Merrick Garland Politics