During Watergate, Nixon White House aide John Ehrlichman coined a term for using half-truths to avoid accountability and the hand of justice: the “modified, limited hangout.”
Per May 6 affidavits that CNN revealed yesterday, that’s exactly what former President Donald Trump is trying to pull off to avoid further fines from a New York court that held him in contempt on April 25. So far, the $10,000 per day penalties total $150,000 and counting.
The contempt order came after Trump failed to respond to a document subpoena that New York Attorney General Letitia James issued in her investigation of the Trump Organization for fraudulent practices. James is focused on alleged inflation of the value of Trump-owned properties in sworn documents submitted to lenders.
Trump’s first move was not to comply but rather to appeal the trial court’s April 25 contempt order. That appeal failed on May 3.
Hence, Plan B: Submit grudging affidavits that seek to pull the wool over the eyes of the trial court.
The affidavits test how little can be said to escape the court’s wrath. The limp feint toward satisfying the court will not satisfy AG James. She will insist upon deposing Trump.
Have a look at his transparently unsatisfactory affidavit.
First, he swears that “since at least January 1, 2010, it has been my customary practice to not keep any documents, files, or papers relating to my business activities in my private residences.” Trump declares that he has authorized his lawyers to search three such residences, and those lawyers declare in their own affidavits that they found no responsive documents.
But Trump’s declaration fails to say he lacks knowledge of any responsive documents existing. Or of them being placed in locations other than Trump Organization offices. Has anyone ever heard of storage facilities? Or that Trump has properties other than his personal residences?
Trump owns a 28,000 square foot Georgian mansion in upstate Seven Springs, New York. AG James alleges that Trump fraudulently inflated its value. His May 6 affidavit includes no reference to it or any of the other residential properties to which he holds title.
The affidavit also acknowledges that since 2010, he’s owned two flip phones. Trump swears: “I do not have the two flip phones in my possession, and I do not know their current whereabouts.”
The omissions raise the question, “What happened to those phones?” Did he give them to someone? Did they get tossed into the ocean?
Knowing where they went can help locate them or be relevant to whether the owner had a state of mind contemptuous of the law.
Trump’s affidavit also says he owned a different Samsung phone. He swears: “I took the Samsung with me to the White House, and it was taken from me at some point while I was President.”
Hmmm, the passive voice. Who took the Samsung? What were the circumstances?
AG James filed her petition against Trump “while [he] was President.” So pardon any skepticism that the phone “was taken” without the then-President’s agreement or collaboration.
Third, Trump declares: “Currently, I own . . . an iPhone which I have owned for several years and is for my personal use.”
- But he doesn’t deny using a phone meant for his personal use for business. Could the former President ever conceivably, possibly, imaginably have done so?
Oh, and are there any phones that he has used for business that he does not “own”? We know from reporting that he frequently used at least one White House aide’s phones to make calls that escaped documenting per requirements of the Presidential Records Act.
In addition, Trump’s May 6 declaration states that he has a new phone but that “I have never placed or received a call, sent or received a text message, or used this phone in any other manner.”
Note the stark contrast from the previous paragraphs: In this one, Trump expressly excludes the possibility that he might have used his phone to send or receive a text message or for any purpose related to the evidence sought. He did not do that with respect to any of his previously owned phones.
There’s more, and better lawyers than I will have plenty of other questions. Letitia James is sure to go after Trump’s “limited, modified hang-out” to try to avoid accountability and the hand of justice.