As prosecutors entered what appeared to be the final stages of their investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of confidential documents, Trump launched a preemptive strike against a possible indictment, issuing an early couple of messages on his social media platform Thursday morning that he tried to delegitimize the investigation.
Mr Trump accused a senior federal prosecutor in the investigation into the documents of trying to « bribe and intimidate » a lawyer who was representing one of the witnesses in the case. He said the prosecutor had offered the lawyer a « major ‘judge’ in the Biden administration » if his client « ‘flips’ on President Trump. »
Trump’s attacks on Truth Social were drawn from a playbook he has used time and time again to undermine investigations into his conduct. His efforts to obstruct both investigations and investigators began well before he became president and continued throughout his term, perhaps most noticeably during the investigation into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials in the 2016.
Trump’s posts on Thursday have their roots in an effort by his legal team to round up allegations of potential prosecutorial misconduct in the documents case.
A few weeks ago, as Trump aides and attorneys grew increasingly concerned that an indictment might be looming, they began assembling a list of complaints about alleged misconduct by prosecutors in Special Counsel Jack’s office. Smith, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The list of grievances was then inserted into a draft letter written to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland intended to alert Mr. Garland of the attorneys’ concerns about how Mr. Smith’s team handled the documents case, the people said .
An abbreviated version of the letter, which also requested a formal meeting with Garland, was sent to the Justice Department late last month. The result was a meeting this week between three of Trump and Smith’s attorneys and other prosecutors, not including the attorney general.
Mr. Trump’s allegations about a judge’s offer resembled an allegation that was uncovered while his lawyers were gathering complaints about the prosecution team, people familiar with the matter said.
They said the allegation was that during a meeting with a defense attorney representing a potential witness against Mr. Trump, a senior prosecutor in the documents case raised — in an unusual and possibly inappropriate manner — a question the attorney had filed to become a municipal judge in Washington.
Mr. Trump’s legal team believed the prosecutor’s comment may be a veiled threat designed to pressure the attorney into convincing his client to become a cooperating witness, the People said.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mr Smith, declined to comment.
In a Thursday press conference with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, President Biden was asked how he could convince the public that the Justice Department was right in the wake of Trump’s repeated attacks. He replied, « I have never once, not once, suggested to the Justice Department what they should or should not do in relation to charging or not charging. »
Throughout his life, Trump has treated every challenge as an ongoing negotiation. His impulse is to go directly to the person he considers the top official of an organization to file a complaint. That was the case when Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III was appointed in 2017; Mr. Trump’s advisers had to stop him from trying to contact Mr. Mueller directly to discuss his case.
By airing his complaints on social media instead of filing them in court documents to a judge, Trump has avoided the normal method of filing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct — a method that, of course, also places a truthfulness and accuracy burden on the accuser.
If an indictment were to be filed, he could choose to include his complaints in a motion to dismiss the case. In theory, he could even file a motion before any charges are filed by using the complaints to attack the process of probing him with the grand jury.
Since his days as a New York real estate developer decades ago, Mr. Trump has sought to undermine people who scrutinized his or his company’s behavior. His company was sued in 1973 by the Justice Department, alleging racially discriminatory housing practices. Trump’s lawyer, brutal fixer Roy M. Cohn, claimed in court in a lawsuit that the government had engaged in « Gestapo-like tactics » and called the investigators « shock troops. »
A few years later, Mr. Trump was investigated by the Federal Attorney in Brooklyn over a possible fraud charge related to his acquisition of a parcel of land. Mr. Trump met with investigators without a lawyer present. The case was eventually dropped, but Mr. Trump continued to complain to people about what he went through.
Decades later, when Eric Schneiderman, then New York’s attorney general, investigated Mr. Trump’s for-profit university, Trump University, Mr. Trump filed a complaint with state ethics officials alleging that Mr. Schneiderman had tried to collect funds from him earlier and said the investigation was punishment for not doing more to contribute.
Even before Mr. Trump was indicted in Manhattan state court earlier this year for an undisclosed cash payment to a porn star, he had already spent months vilifying the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, like a puppet of Mr. Trump’s political enemies. He has repeatedly called Mr. Bragg, Manhattan’s first black prosecutor, a « racist. » And he’s currently trying to have the judge in the case, as Judge Juan M. Merchan, recused, arguing that the judge has conflicts because a relative of his worked with the Democrats.
After Mr. Trump took office as president, he and his allies repeatedly turned their ire against law enforcement officials involved in the investigation who approached him.
In 2018, for example, after federal agents searched the office of Michael Cohen, then Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, for evidence of campaign finance violations, Rudolph W. Giuliani, another attorney close to Mr. Trump, opened an attack on the FBI
Mr. Giuliani said the FBI office in New York – with which he had once worked closely as a US attorney in Manhattan – acted like « shock troops » in conducting the raid, the same language Mr. Cohn had used years earlier.
But the way Mr. Trump approaches Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigation is likely to more closely mirror how he has tried to fight the Mueller investigation.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly attacked the FBI and the prosecutors who work for Mr. Mueller, calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt. Mr. Trump and his allies have sought to destroy the legitimacy of the investigation by conflating problems internal Justice Department investigators later uncovered and by distorting the facts used by John Durham, another special prosecutor who looked into the Russia investigation in his own investigation.