Legal experts: Trump's Israel comments could backfire on him in court

“Trump’s public statements erode his defenses enormously,” former Trump White House lawyer warns

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Staff Writer

Published October 16, 2023 1:36PM (EDT)

Former US President and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds a campaign event during a Club 47 USA event at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on October 11, 2023. (GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)
Former US President and Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump holds a campaign event during a Club 47 USA event at Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida on October 11, 2023. (GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump's public statements may come back to haunt him in his ongoing legal battles, legal experts warn.

The former president was issued a limited gag order by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron earlier this month as part of his civil business fraud trial. On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan — the judge in Trump's federal election case — imposed another partial gag order, prohibiting him from publicly attacking witnesses or prosecutors. A person close to Trump told The Washington Post that his legal team has never instructed him to not post on social media; however, the source admitted that Trump's provocative speech has only further muddied the waters of his legal woes and stymied his attorneys from succeeding at their jobs. 

The ex-president's most recent series of questionable comments made about Israel amid its ongoing war with Gaza could implicate him even further.

The Washington Post reported how, at a recent rally hosted by pro-MAGA group Club 47 in Florida, Trump doubled down on previous claims that he was well within his right to stow classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate, saying “I can do whatever I want, but I did nothing wrong." 

“I don’t think this has ever been told,” Trump said. “They’ll say, ‘Oh, it’s classified information.’ Maybe it is, but I don’t think so.” From there, he recounted a story about a U.S. operation in 2020 that targeted and killed the leader of Iran's Quds Force, General Qasem Soleimani, adding that Israel, which he claimed had held a pivotal in the plot, ultimately withdrew at the eleventh hour. “We had everything all set to go, and the night before it happened, I got a call that Israel would not be participating in this attack,” Trump said. “Nobody’s heard this story before, but I’d like to tell it to Club 47 because you’ve been so loyal and so beautiful.”

An anonymous former intelligence official who was employed by the Trump administration was concerned about the ex-president's comments, telling the Post that the Soleimani information was considered classified. 

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Even if Trump's claims are untrue, they could still be used by special counsel Jack Smith and other prosecutors to illustrate Trump's intentions and state of mind, the report noted. The former president's rhetoric could serve as the evidentiary basis to "argue to a jury that even after his indictment, the former president shows a willful disregard for protecting national security secrets."

Legal experts have indicated that Trump's history of divulging sensitive information does not bode well for his legal defense, as he continues to partially implicate himself for the crimes he stands accused of. 

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“Trump’s public statements erode his defenses enormously,” former Trump-era White House lawyer Ty Cobb told the Post. “Flip-flopping between ‘I had the power’ with the classified documents and 'there was a process' — both acknowledge the possession of the classified documents.”

Cobb also underscored a secret audio recording in which Trump admits retaining a classified Pentagon document about a potential attack on Iran, a bombshell tape that undermines his declassification claims. 

“Lying about it is compelling evidence as to consciousness of guilt,” Cobb said. “The prosecutors can play that snippet every day if they want, and they will play that and other interviews at will. He has confessed publicly, though perhaps unknowing, to virtually every element of the Mar a Lago case. ... Every unscripted thing he says hurts him.”

By Gabriella Ferrigine

Gabriella Ferrigine is a staff writer at Salon. Originally from the Jersey Shore, she moved to New York City in 2016 to attend Columbia University, where she received her B.A. in English and M.A. in American Studies. Formerly a staff writer at NowThis News, she has an M.A. in Magazine Journalism from NYU and was previously a news fellow at Salon.

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

Arthur Engoron Brief Donald Trump Jack Smith Politics Tanya Chutkan