(NEW YORK) — Donald Trump on Monday suggested he had been too “busy” and wanted to be sure he’d retrieved his personal belongings before complying with the federal government’s repeated demands — and, eventually, a grand jury’s subpoena — that he return classified documents he took with him when he left the White House.
In a lengthy interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier, which continued to air on Tuesday, Trump staunchly defended the conduct now at the center of an unprecedented, 37-count federal indictment against him.
He pleaded not guilty last week and is tentatively set to go to trial later this year.
He is the first former president to ever face federal criminal charges.
Trump is accused of 31 counts of willful retention of national defense information; one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice; one count of withholding a document or record; one count of corruptly concealing a document or record; one count of concealing a document in a federal investigation; one count of scheming to conceal; and one count of making false statements and representations.
While prosecutors allege the former president illegally held onto national defense information and refused to give it back even after a subpoena, in violation of the Espionage Act, Trump pushed back on the case against him in various answers to Baier.
At the same time, he also appeared to acknowledge that the packing process to leave the White House had been haphazard and that he later resisted turning over everything to the government as quickly as they wanted.
“Why did you have this very sensitive national security defense documents?” Baier asked at one point.
“So, like every other president, I take things out,” Trump said. “And, in my case, I took it out pretty much in a hurry. But people packed it up, and we left. And I had clothing in there, I had all sorts of personal items.”
“I have to go through those boxes,” he said. “I take out personal things.”
Trump also insisted “I have every right to have those boxes” and wrongly said the Presidential Records Act gave him permission to take the government records with him when he left office. (The Presidential Records Act specifically excludes official agency records. Prosecutors wrote in Trump’s indictment that he kept documents from U.S. intelligence agencies.)
At one point in the interview, Baier referenced the sensitive records that prosecutors say were recovered from Trump, including those about America’s military and nuclear capabilities, a foreign country’s support of terrorism and information on various foreign militaries.
“Why do you want to hold on to those documents after you’re president?” Baier asked.
“I don’t say I do,” Trump said.
The indictment against him describes how he and aides packed boxes to leave the White House that contained hundreds of classified documents — and, back at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, how those same boxes were then carted from room to room around the property, including in areas accessible to others.
At one point, the indictment states, a Trump aide found that some of the boxes had fallen in a storage room, spilling their contents across the floor. Among the papers was a document marked “secret,” according to the indictment.
In the Fox News interview, when Baier said the National Archives had sought for Trump to return what he took, Trump contended that was what he was trying to do — which prosecutors dispute.
The indictment states that starting in May 2021, the archives “repeatedly demanded” that Trump hand back over any presidential records he took with him after office, as required by law — otherwise, the archives warned, they would “refer the matter” to the Department of Justice.
In January 2022, the archives received 15 boxes that Trump sent them, according to the indictment, and found that 14 of the boxes had, in total, about 200 classified documents. The archives referred this to the DOJ.
In March 2022, the FBI began investigating and in May 2022 a federal grand jury issued a subpoena in order to compel Trump to turn over all the classified records he inappropriately had, according to the indictment, which also states that Trump’s attorneys then provided some more classified documents to the government but not all of them. The FBI obtained a search warrant, approved by a judge, to search Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 where they found another 102 documents with classification markings.
On Fox News on Monday, Baier referenced some of this timeline.
“They asked,” Baier told Trump of the archives.
“We were talking. … And I gave them some,” Trump said.
Baier noted the federal grand jury’s subpoena.
“Why not just hand them over then?” Baier asked.
“Because I had boxes. I want to go through the boxes and get all my personal things out. I don’t want to hand that over to [the archives] yet,” Trump said. “And I was very busy, as you have sort of seen. I have been very, very busy.”
“Before I send boxes over, I have to take all of my things out,” he said. “These boxes were interspersed with all sorts of things, golf shirts, clothing, pants, shoes.”
Baier asked if those materials included a potential attack plan on Iran.
“Not that I know of,” Trump said, and he said he no longer has any classified documents in his possession.
Prosecutors wrote in the indictment that in 2021 Trump was allegedly recorded showing off a “secret” government document that he noted was still classified. ABC News has reported that, according to sources, Trump said the document was about attacking Iran.
On Fox News, Trump disputed the account of the recording when Baier raised it, saying, “It wasn’t a document, OK?” Instead, he said he might have been referring in the recording to news clips.
Trump also maintained that he had declassified “everything” with him, which he has claimed before, though he has provided no evidence of doing so before his presidency ended.
He also repeatedly said he was being singled out despite other former office-holders keeping classified records while out of office, including current President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom said they promptly returned classified documents after discovering them — unlike Trump.
The Department of Justice investigated but did not pursue charges against Pence. A special prosecutor has been examining Biden’s handling of classified records while out of office. He has pledged to cooperate and said he wants the matter “resolved quickly.”
“When you look at this, other presidents, when they leave, they take the papers,” Trump told Baier.
“They have never treated a president like this,” he said at another point in the interview.
Asked if he was “worried” about the federal case, Trump said, “Based on the law? Zero.”
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