As the Department of Justice investigates his handling of highly classified documents, former President Donald Trump spoke for nearly two hours in a rally in Pennsylvania that was filled with false, exaggerated and misleading statements.
No ‘phony pretext’ for Mar-A-Lago searchClaim: “There could be no more vivid example of the very real threats from American freedom than just a few weeks ago, you saw it, when we witnessed one of the most shocking abuses of power by any administration in American history. The shameful raid and break in of my home, Mar-a-Lago, was a travesty of justice that made a mockery of America’s laws, traditions, and principles before the entire world. … On a phony pretext, getting permission from a highly political magistrate who they hand-picked late in the evening, just days before the break in, and trampled upon my rights and civil liberties as if our country, that we love so much, were a Third World nation. … Can you believe it?”
Facts: There was no “phony pretext” for the search warrant, which was approved by a federal magistrate judge in Florida on Aug. 5 and lawfully executed by the FBI on Aug. 8. The timeline of events shows that government records, some of them highly classified, were taken from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, and Trump repeatedly thwarted efforts by the National Archives and Records Administration to recover them.
NARA has said that it worked through 2021 to retrieve the records from Mar-a-Lago. In January, NARA finally received 15 boxes of records from Trump’s representatives. NARA said it “identified items marked as classified national security information” in the boxes, and a criminal referral was made to the Department of Justice. A preliminary FBI review found the boxes contained “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 92 documents marked as SECRET, and 25 documents marked as TOP SECRET.”
The Department of Justice had reason to believe that there were more classified documents stored at Mar-a-Lago, and it issued a grand jury subpoena to Trump’s office in May seeking all documents “bearing classification markings.” At Mar-a-Lago on June 3, an attorney for Trump gave three FBI agents and a DOJ official “a single Redweld envelope” that a later review revealed contained “38 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 5 documents marked as CONFIDENTIAL, 16 documents marked as SECRET, and 17 documents marked as TOP SECRET,” a court filing said. At that meeting, Trump’s attorney gave government agents a sworn statement that said there were no other government records at Mar-a-Lago that were responsive to the subpoena, according to a DOJ court filing. But that was not the end of it.
After the June 3 visit to Mar-a-Lago, “the FBI uncovered multiple sources of evidence indicating that the response to the May 11 grand jury subpoena was incomplete and that classified documents remained at the Premises, notwithstanding the sworn certification made to the government on June 3,” the DOJ court filing said. “The government also developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the [Mar-a-Lago] Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” the filing said.
The Aug. 8 searched turned up more than 100 documents with classified markings: 18 marked as top secret, 54 marked as secret, 31 marked as confidential, according to an inventory of items taken from Trump’s office and a storage area at Mar-a-Lago. In addition, there were 48 “empty” folders marked as having once contained “classified” material, including 43 from Trump’s office, the inventory showed.
These were the reasons that the DOJ sought, obtained and executed a search warrant — contrary to Trump’s claim about it being the result of a “phony pretext” and “a desperate effort to distract from Joe Biden’s record of misery and failure.”
As for the claims about the judge, Magistrate Judge Bruce E. Reinhart has donated relatively small amounts to federal candidates of both parties and to McDonald Hopkins’ political action committee while working at the law firm. He was appointed a magistrate by the district court judges and received the warrant application because he was on warrant duty at the time, as explained on the National Law Journal website.
FBI photoClaim: “They talk about documents not being properly stored. Yet they go in and take documents, dump them on the floor, stage a photo shoot, and pretend that I had done it, like I had put them all over the floor. They took that back after a lot of prodding. Then they put out, for public consumption, a picture which is seen all over the world. This is what they do. It’s called disinformation. These are very dishonest, sick people.”
Facts: This is false. The Justice Department did not “pretend” that Trump had left the recovered documents on the floor of a room at Mar-a-Lago.
The DOJ’s Aug. 30 court filing indicates on page 13 that the classified documents and cover sheets shown in the FBI photo — which was included in the filing as an attachment — were found in a “container,” not spread across the floor.
The filing reads: “Certain of the documents had colored cover sheets indicating their classification status. See, e.g., Attachment F (redacted FBI photograph of certain documents and classified cover sheets recovered from a container in the ’45 office’).”
Unnamed Justice Department officials told the New York Times and the Washington Post that the documents were arranged on the floor and photographed by the FBI to document the evidence that had been seized in the search.
“A person familiar with the investigation confirmed to The Washington Post that arranging seized evidence for a photo is standard FBI practice in searches and investigations,” the Post reported.
Russia investigation triggered by Trump campaign aideClaim: “I tell this story on occasion, very seldom, because it’s too sad to tell, but I tell this story because it’s very important. Russia, Russia, Russia was a hoax. It was developed by Hillary Clinton and a group of people, small group around a kitchen table, as a way of explaining why she lost an election that a lot of people thought she would win.”
Facts: This is revisionist history. The “hoax” that Trump colluded with the Russians was not “developed by Hillary Clinton and a group of people.”
Here are the facts: In July 2016, the FBI began investigating the Russian government’s attempt to influence the 2016 presidential election, including whether Trump’s campaign associates were involved in those efforts. As explained in the DOJ inspector general’s report in December 2019, the investigation of Trump’s campaign was triggered when a “Friendly Foreign Government,” an Australian diplomat, learned from George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, that the Russians had damaging information on Clinton.
“As we describe in Chapter Three, the FBI opened Crossfire Hurricane on July 31, 2016, just days after its receipt of information from a Friendly Foreign Government (FFG) reporting that, in May 2016, during a meeting with the FFG, then Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos ‘suggested the Trump team had received some kind of suggestion from Russia that it could assist this process with the anonymous release of information during the campaign that would be damaging to Mrs. Clinton (and President Obama),’” the report said. “The FBI Electronic Communication (EC) opening the Crossfire Hurricane investigation stated that, based on the FFG information, ‘this investigation is being opened to determine whether individual(s) associated with the Trump campaign are witting of and/or coordinating activities with the Government of Russia.’”
The investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller resulted in 37 indictments or guilty pleas — including against 26 Russians and three Russian companies, as summarized by Vox. A redacted report written by Mueller’s office detailed how the Russians carried out an extensive social media campaign and targeted cyberattacks against Clinton and the Democratic Party committees to damage Clinton and help Trump.
The report, which was released April 18, 2019, said the investigation “established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government.” But the investigation “did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.” (Read our story “What the Mueller Report Says About Russian Contacts” for more information.)
In a second redacted report, investigators detailed multiple instances of Trump’s “obstructive acts” during the DOJ investigation. The report said that while the investigation “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” (Read our story “What the Mueller Report Says About Obstruction” for more information.)
False claims about Clinton’s emails
Claim: “We are being assaulted by the same group at the FBI and DOJ that, just a few years ago, declared no reasonable prosecutor would charge crooked Hillary Clinton after she set up a secret illegal server to hide her family’s pay-for-play schemes, crammed it full of classified information, allowed it to be plundered by foreign hackers, you know that happened. And then deleted, acid-washed, 30,000 emails. … And what else did she do? Boom, with a hammer, smashed her phone systems to smithereens after receiving the highest level of subpoena from the U.S. Congress.”
Facts: Trump gets very little right about the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s use of a private server while secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.
He’s right that the FBI “declared no reasonable prosecutor would charge” Clinton. On July 5, 2016, four months before the presidential election, then-FBI Director James Comey said at a press briefing: “Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.”
But the rest of Trump’s remarks are exaggerated or flat-out wrong.
Clinton’s server was not “crammed … full of classified information,” as Trump said. But Clinton is also wrong to continue to claim — as she did in a Sept. 6 tweet — that she kept “zero emails that were classified” on her server.
At the July 5, 2016, briefing, Comey said Clinton returned about 30,000 emails and, of those, “110 emails in 52 email chains have been determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.” He also said “[o]nly a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information.” Days later, when testifying before a House committee, Comey clarified that three emails had “portion markings,” which he explained under questioning meant the emails were marked as classified with the letter “C” in the body of the email and therefore could have been missed by Clinton.
“Separate from those, about 2,000 additional emails were ‘up-classified’ to make them Confidential,” which is the lowest level of classification, he said in the July 5 briefing. “Up-classified,” Comey said, means “the information in those had not been classified at the time the emails were sent.”
There is also no evidence that Clinton’s emails were “plundered by foreign hackers,” as Trump put it.
As we wrote in “A Guide to Clinton’s Emails,” foreign hackers attempted to access the server, but the FBI and the State Department’s inspector general found no evidence that any attempt was successful. Comey said, however, that doesn’t mean the server wasn’t compromised. “[G]iven the nature of the system and of the actors potentially involved, we assess that we would be unlikely to see such direct evidence,” Comey said.
There is also no evidence that Clinton destroyed evidence, as Trump claimed.
After identifying work emails to turn over to the State Department, Clinton directed her staff to delete 31,830 personal emails. (As we wrote, they were not “acid-washed,” as Trump said.)
An outside contractor for Platte River Networks wiped Clinton’s computer hard drive of all emails sometime between March 25 and March 31, 2015, according to the FBI. That was about three weeks after the House Select Committee on Benghazi served Clinton with a subpoena on March 4, 2015.
But Comey said “we believe our investigation has been sufficient to give us reasonable confidence there was no intentional misconduct in connection” with her staff’s sorting of work and personal emails, and no evidence of “efforts to obstruct justice.”
Finally, Trump’s wrong again when he says Clinton “smashed her phone systems to smithereens after receiving the highest level of subpoena from the U.S. Congress.”
As we have written, the FBI said in its notes on the investigation (on page 8) that Clinton used eight mobile devices while she was secretary of state. It quotes Clinton aide Justin Cooper (on page 9) as saying that he could recall on two occasions that he got rid of old mobile devices by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer. The IG report indicated that the destruction of the cell phones occurred while she was secretary of state – contrary to Trump’s claim that she did so “after receiving the highest level of subpoena from Congress.”
The IG report said Cooper and another aide told investigators that they “wiped or destroyed Clinton’s devices once she transitioned to new devices.” Comey said that investigators “found no evidence” that “work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to conceal them.”
No evidence of a ‘rigged election’
Claim: “Young guys come up, beautiful staffers, there are a lot of them here right now, and here, all over the place, that just came up to me. ‘You won Pennsylvania by a lot, sir.’ I’d go, ‘That’s right. You’re right about that.’ Doug, I think at nine o’clock in the evening, we were 950,000 votes up, with 73% of the vote cast? All of a sudden, around 3:02 or something, the equipment closed down. It all closed down. And then you had that massive spike. Remember the spike that went to heaven and came back? It should have gone to hell and come back. And all of a sudden we were tied, and then all of a sudden we lost by a whisper. A rigged election.”
Facts: Trump lost Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes, but the extended time needed to count ballots wasn’t evidence that the state’s election was “rigged.”
As we wrote before the election, it was expected that counting the mail-in ballots in Pennsylvania would extend beyond Election Day. That was due to several factors. First, Pennsylvanians voted by mail for the first time in 2020 without a specific reason, due to bipartisan legislation approved by a Republican-controlled Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf in October 2019. That legislative change, combined with the pandemic, resulted in more than 2.6 million voters casting their ballots in the 2020 general election.
Second, Pennsylvania election officials by law cannot begin pre-canvassing ballots — opening envelopes and preparing the ballots to be counted — until Election Day at 7 a.m. Third, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a state Supreme Court ruling that allowed Pennsylvania up to three days to count mail-in ballots that were postmarked by Election Day. Prior to the election, then-Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said it would take at least until Nov. 6 — three days after Election Day — to count all the ballots.
Also, it was not surprising that most of those ballots would be cast by Democrats, who in recent elections have used mail-in ballots more than Republicans. A March 2020 study that was coauthored by Charles Stewart, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Edward B. Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, found a “growing tendency” of ballots counted after Election Day “to disproportionately favor Democrats in presidential elections,” which they dubbed the “blue shift.”
Of the more than 2.6 million mail-in ballots cast in Pennsylvania, registered Democrats cast roughly 1.7 million ballots, while registered Republicans cast only about 623,000, according to the U.S. Elections Project, which is maintained by Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor.
Throughout the Wilkes-Barre rally, Trump repeated his baseless claims of a “rigged election.” At another point, Trump said: “American elections should be determined only by the American people, and that did not happen in 2020.” But that’s exactly what did happen in 2020. In fact, top Justice Department officials under Trump testified at the House hearing on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol that they told Trump his claims of election fraud were baseless — but he continues to repeat them, anyway. (See “Trump Ignored Aides, Repeated False Fraud Claims.”)
“My opinion then and my opinion now is that the election was not stolen by fraud,” former Attorney General William Barr told the committee.
This piece has been edited for space. The full piece, which is much longer, can be found at FactCheck.org