Trump faces new charges in classified documents case
SCOTT DETROW, HOST:
The list of charges against former President Donald Trump keeps growing. On Thursday, federal prosecutors in Florida added new felony charges against Trump and two of his employees at Mar-a-Lago. Trump and two others are now charged with seeking to delete key security footage at a moment when the investigation into Trump's alleged possession of classified documents grew more serious. My good friends at the NPR Politics Podcast talked through what it all means. Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson began the conversation with Susan Davis and Domenico Montanaro by pointing out that these latest charges happened at a moment when she and other reporters were waiting on an entirely different potential indictment of Trump.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: So while a bunch of us were sitting in the federal courthouse in D.C. waiting for something to happen with respect to the January 6 grand jury, instead, the activity was happening in South Florida again. Donald Trump has now been charged with a total of 40 federal criminal offenses...
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Wow.
JOHNSON: ...In South Florida in connection with the hoarding - alleged hoarding of documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort. And there are two elements to this superseding indictment, two new facets here.
The first is that Trump has been charged with another count of willful retention of information related to the national defense. This seems to be about a military presentation regarding Iran that Trump was allegedly waving around to aides at Bedminster, his New Jersey golf club, that was mentioned in the earlier indictment. And the prosecution says they now have these papers. And the reason why this is important is because they also have an audiotape of someone at that meeting of Trump allegedly saying, you know, this is a secret, and I could have declassified it when I was president, but I didn't. And so it's still a secret. And it could be powerful evidence of his state of mind, really.
SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: And, Carrie, what is the other component to this?
JOHNSON: The other component is that there are new obstruction of justice charges here against former President Trump, his valet, Walt Nauta, and a third Mar-a-Lago employee, Carlos De Oliveira. The allegation here is that after the FBI and the Justice Department issued a subpoena for security footage of Mar-a-Lago, Trump, Nauta and this third man, Carlos De Oliveira, cooked up a plot to try to delete the security footage to keep it out of the hands of the FBI. And there's some allegation about De Oliveira telling another Mar-a-Lago employee, the boss really wants this done. And this is hard stuff. This is hard stuff, if it's true, for a jury to hear in a case that's so important about national security.
DAVIS: And is it unusual in a case like this for having additional charges brought, especially in such a high-profile investigation?
JOHNSON: It's not super unusual. Prosecutors often will sift through their evidence and realize there's a bit more here. We did know already that some additional Mar-a-Lago employees were under government scrutiny. Now a third person has been charged. It's not clear to me why this delay. We do know the prosecutors had said in open court that they were having a hard time getting into Walt Nauta's phone. And perhaps that was really one of the reasons for these additional charges now.
DAVIS: Domenico, has there been any response from former President Trump?
MONTANARO: Well, you can imagine Trump's not happy. And he's, you know, again, blasting the Justice Department, blasting President Biden, blaming him for this and blasting the special counsel, saying that this is just another attempt to derail his presidential campaign. Of course, we're stuck in this situation where, you know, if he's running for president, he's saying, don't prosecute him. But when he was president, the Justice Department didn't want to prosecute him because of their protocols. So clearly, he's trying to use this as a shield, his run for president, to say you really shouldn't be prosecuting me, and this is just all political.
DAVIS: Speaking of political, Domenico, he is still the front-runner for the Republican nomination. And we have new polling out from the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
MONTANARO: Yeah, it's actually brand new. We just got this in. We just got out of the field. And it shows that Republicans are, you know, softening a little bit in their support for Trump overall. But he's still the big player. You know, when we asked about whether or not he's done anything wrong or if he's done something illegal or just something unethical, 51% of people overall said that he, they believe, has done something illegal. Democrats have gone up six points in thinking that since June. Not surprising there.
But when you look on the Republican side, you know, back in June, 50% said that he had done nothing wrong. Now it's down to 41%. You know, that's starting to get toward the outside portion of the margin of error. So that's a little bit of significant movement there. And when we asked about whether or not they want Trump to be the nominee, last month, it was almost two-thirds who said that. Sixty-four percent of Republicans said that they wanted Trump to be the nominee. I mean, he's down six points now to 58%. Now, could these numbers jump back up? Could they change based on how Trump spins some of this? Sure. But we may be seeing a little bit of a pylon effect.
DAVIS: You know, it is a fascinating dynamic because we continue to talk about the Republican primary and how he's still very strong among the base. But these are also an indication that if he were to be a general election nominee, you know, understatement - this is a tremendous amount of political baggage to be bringing into a national election.
MONTANARO: Huge amount of baggage and none of it's popular with independents. It's really the swing group there. And I think we're going to have to watch the fact that, you know, Trump hasn't been able to get over 46% in a general election. Right now, it looks like he is really moving toward being the nominee. Given that Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor, his operation has seemed to kind of take a nosedive in some respects, laying off a bunch of staffers and all of that. But, you know, when it comes to a general election, he's had a significantly difficult time, Trump, in getting above 46%. We're going to have to watch those third parties and see, with all this disaffection, if people decide to go to someone else.
DAVIS: Carrie, this is significant news in the classified documents case, but this was not the indictment news we were expecting this week. We still are expecting to hear likely within days, news about the January 6 investigation.
JOHNSON: Yeah. That's right. Lawyers for former President Trump appeared at the special counsel Jack Smith's office, and presumably to try to convince them not to move forward with an indictment related to Trump's alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Trump called that a productive meeting. We do not have a readout from the special counsel. The grand jury here in D.C. may be back next week, and I'll be here, too, watching and waiting.
DAVIS: Domenico, I personally am very interested to see what the impact of a possible January 6 indictment is, because I think the potential allegations in that case for a lot of voters are in a completely different realm from what's happening in New York about covering up hush-money payments to cover up an extramarital affair, even the classified documents, you know, there's a dispute over whether he could keep them or not. January 6 is about subverting an election. It's about, you know, trying to overturn an election fraudulently trying to overturn election. Voters might see that very differently than these other investigations.
MONTANARO: Yeah. You know, we've pulled on this previously because I was really interested to see if Trump being convicted would change anything with Republicans, and we really didn't see much change. You still had, you know, over 60% of Republicans saying that they wanted Trump to be the nominee if he was convicted of a crime. Now, this was a couple of months ago when this was asked. But in reality, if he is actually convicted of something by a jury of his peers and there are still more pending charges and maybe convicted of something else, do these numbers really start to change and shift? He does have a significant, you know, stronghold on a on a solid share of the Republican Party.
But, you know, right now, the biggest problem in the Republican primary for any alternatives is no one seems to be emerging. But, you know, I really tell people, don't pay much attention when it comes to these horse race numbers in national polls because these - you know, primaries are not decided nationally. They're decided in the early states. And we're starting to see a difference in the polling in places like Iowa and New Hampshire as compared to what we're seeing overall nationally. Trump's lead is much, much smaller in the early states.
DETROW: That was NPR's Domenico Montanaro, Carrie Johnson and Susan Davis. You can hear the NPR Politics Podcast every weekday afternoon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.