The superseding indictment against former President Donald Trump for an alleged conspiracy with two Mar-a-Lago aides to destroy security camera footage that incriminated them in obstruction of justice presents a new challenge for special counsel Jack Smith: the new complexities in the classified documents case gives the former president an opening to delay the trial further, even possibly past the election, which Trump-appointed Judge Aileen Cannon could well grant him given her track record.
But it’s worth the risk, argued former White House ethics czar and impeachment counsel Norm Eisen in a column for CNN Friday.
“This addition, an alleged surveillance tape conspiracy, almost reads like a spy novel,” wrote Eisen. “It features Trump employee and co-defendant Walt Nauta’s surprise clandestine trip to Florida. And it is followed by Nauta and the new co-defendant, De Oliveira, observing and pointing out the surveillance cameras, and then De Oliveria having a conversation about ‘the boss’ wanting the IT server deleted … Lest we miss the point, all of that is framed on either end of this new insert to the indictment with alleged calls from Trump to his new co-conspirator De Oliveira.”
All of this is important for a jury to understand, wrote Eisen, for several reasons.
First of all, he argued, “The newly persuasive details in each charge will add heft to the other charges” — which will matter particularly in a courtroom where the judge is accused of bias and could subtly influence the jury to minimize the charges, and where the jury pool itself comes from an area that voted for Trump. Second, the new indictment including specific documents Trump stole makes the crime tangible, and helps the jury conceptualize why it was damaging. Third, with those documents in the charges, Smith is much more likely to be allowed to enter the tape of Trump boasting about possession of the documents at his New Jersey golf club into evidence — something that might have otherwise been considered prejudicial, but will now be legally relevant to proving the offense.
“If the facts bear out as charged, this is slam dunk legal proof that also has a strong human dimension,” wrote Eisen. “Like the unflattering nature of the Bedminster tape and the Fox News appearance, a former president allegedly dragging two of his workers into a criminal scheme is an extremely unsympathetic look.”