Trump Might Not Be Able to Use His Idiocy as a Defense Anymore

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Don’t look now, but Donald Trump’s “I’m an idiot” defense may go up in smoke, as the notion that Trump sincerely thought he could wave his hand and magically deem documents to be declassified seems to be taking a major hit.

According to CNN, “…the National Archives plans to hand 16 documents over to the special counsel that show Trump knew the correct procedure for declassifying such material.” In a letter obtained by CNN, acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall informs Trump that “The 16 records in question all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you personally, concerning whether, why, and how you should declassify certain classified records.”

This development could be significant because, as CNN notes, it “gets to the question of whether Trump had criminal intent, a building block of any case against him.”

For years, Trump has been aided by a sense that he is too stupid, crazy, misguided, incompetent, or chaotic to have knowingly violated the law.

A few years ago, famed author Bob Woodward argued that Trump was too disorganized to conspire with Russia. Trump-skeptical conservative Jonah Goldberg similarly noted that Trump wasn’t competent enough to pull off collusion with Russia. They may have had a point.

It’s harder to make the same argument in regards to Trump’s subsequent actions—including his attempt to overturn the 2020 election results and his illegally taking and retaining classified documents (both of which are currently being investigated by special counsel Jack Smith, a prosecutor so serious he doesn’t smile in photos).

Attempting to preemptively undermine Trump’s George Costanza defense—“it’s not a lie if you believe it”—the Jan. 6 Committee went to great pains to establish that Trump was fully aware that he actually lost the 2020 election.

Trump aides even testified that Trump said things like, “Can you believe I lost to this f—ing guy?” meaning Joe Biden.

In news that I still think was underrated, then-Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) dropped this bombshell: “Knowing he was leaving office, [Trump] acted immediately and signed [an] order on Nov. 11, which would have required the immediate withdrawal of troops from Somalia and Afghanistan all to be complete before the Biden inauguration on Jan. 20.”

Anyone with common sense can evaluate the evidence and determine that Trump knew he lost the 2020 election; the alternative is implausible (that he was merely attempting to prevent Biden from stealing the election from him).

Similarly, even before news broke that the National Archives was handing over those 16 documents, Trump was already playing a weak hand regarding the classified documents.

According to NBC News, “Trump’s lawyers told Congress last month that the classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago compound got there by accident.”

Yet during last week’s CNN town hall, Trump proudly declared that, no, it wasn’t an accident. In fact, he ordered the code red.

“I took what I took and it gets declassified… I had every right to do it,” Trump insisted. “I didn’t make a secret of it. You know, the boxes were stationed outside of the White House. People were taking pictures…”

Heretofore, Trump has benefitted from the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” whereby people believe he is too irrational or inept to have real criminal intent. Just as it’s hard to be mad at a child for acting like a child, Trump gets away with behavior that other people would be pilloried for.

Once he became president, things got even worse, as he adopted Richard Nixon’s “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal” philosophy.

This, coupled with his uncanny ability to talk like a mobster and speak in code—“I just want to find 11,780 votes”—has allowed a certain plausible deniability to persist.

But can he get away with this behavior indefinitely?

Trump has already been indicted over an alleged scheme to pay hush money to a porn star, and he was found liable for sexual battery and defamation. And at least three remaining potential future indictments pose a more serious threat to Trump.

Unlike the political adversaries he steamrolls, prosecutors have subpoena power (which is how they obtained the 16 presidential records).

And as we saw in the $5 million civil case that Trump just lost, unlike the fake-it-till-you-make-it world Trump is used to, in a court of law people are actually held accountable; Court cases have verdicts.

None of this means Trump won’t skate again. But the idea that he will be able to escape prosecution by claiming ignorance or incompetence seems increasingly unlikely.

To paraphrase Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), it’s time to dispel once and for all this fictional notion that Donald Trump doesn’t know what he’s doing. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

And he’s going to keep doing it, as long as he thinks he can get away with it.

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