As prosecutors entered the final stages of their investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s handling of classified documents, Mr. Trump launched a pre-emptive strike against a potential indictment by posting a few early posts on his social media platform. Thursday morning that tried to delegitimize the investigation.
Mr. Trump accused a top federal prosecutor in the documentary investigation of “bribing and intimidating” a lawyer representing one of the witnesses in the case. He claimed the prosecution had offered the lawyer a “major ‘judgeship’ in the Biden administration” if his client “flipped” President Trump.
Mr. Trump’s attacks on Truth Social are drawn from a playbook he has used time and time again to undermine investigations into his conduct. His efforts to thwart both investigations and detectives began long before he was president and continued throughout his term, perhaps most notably during the investigation of his 2016 campaign’s possible collusion with Russian officials.
Mr Trump’s posts on Thursday had their origins in an effort by his legal team to collect allegations of possible misconduct by prosecutors in the documents case.
Several weeks ago, as Trump’s aides and lawyers became increasingly concerned that an indictment was imminent, they began compiling a list of complaints alleging misconduct by prosecutors in the office of Special Counsel Jack Smith , according to two people familiar with the matter. matter.
The list of grievances was then included in the draft letter to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland was intended to alert Mr. Garland to the attorneys’ concerns about how Mr. Smith’s team handled the documents case, the attorneys said. people.
An abridged version of the letter, which also requests a formal meeting with Mr. Garland was sent to the Justice Department late last month. Three of Mr. Trump’s lawyers met with Mr. Smith and other prosecutors this week, not counting the attorney general.
Trump’s allegations about the offer of judicial office resembled one discovered when his lawyers were collecting complaints about the prosecution team, people familiar with the case said.
They said the allegation was that during a meeting with a defense attorney representing a potential witness against Trump, a top prosecutor in the documents case brought forward — in an unusual and perhaps inappropriate manner — a request that the attorney had made to a municipal judge in Washington.
Mr Trump’s legal team believed the prosecution’s comment may have been a veiled threat designed to pressure the lawyer into getting his client to become a cooperating witness, the people said.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mr Smith, declined to comment.
At a Thursday press conference with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain, President Biden was asked how he could convince the public that the Justice Department was being fair after Mr Trump’s repeated attacks. He replied, “I have never, not once, suggested to the Justice Department what they should or should not do with regard to whether or not to press charges.”
Throughout his life, Mr. Trump has treated every challenge before him as an ongoing negotiation. His impulse is to go directly to the person he considers to be the top executive of an organization to make his complaints. Such was the case when special counsel Robert S. Mueller III was appointed in 2017; Mr. Trump’s advisers had to stop him from contacting Mr. Mueller directly to plead his case.
By airing his complaints on social media rather than presenting them to a judge in court documents, Mr. Trump avoided the normal method of filing allegations of prosecutor misconduct — a method that, of course, also compromised the veracity and accuracy puts on the accuser.
Should charges be filed, he could choose to include his complaints in a motion to dismiss the case. In theory, he could also file a motion before any charges are filed, using the complaints to attack the process of investigating 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 investigate his or his company’s conduct. His company was sued by the Justice Department in 1973 for racially discriminatory housing practices. Mr. Trump’s attorney, ruthless fixer Roy M. Cohn, alleged in countersuit lawsuits that the government engaged in “Gestapo-like tactics” and called investigators “stormtroopers.”
A few years later, Mr. Trump was investigated by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn on 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 subsequently complained to people about what he had been through.
Decades later, when Eric Schneiderman, then New York Attorney General, was investigating Trump’s for-profit college, Trump University, Mr. Trump filed a complaint with state ethics officials alleging that Mr. Schneiderman had previously attempted to raise money from him, claiming the investigation was retaliation for not going the extra mile to contribute.
Even before Mr. Trump was indicted by a Manhattan court earlier this year for paying hush money to a porn star, he had spent months disparaging District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg as a puppet of Mr. Trump’s political enemies. . He repeatedly called Mr. Bragg, Manhattan’s first black prosecutor, “racist.” And he is currently trying to get the judge in the case, Acting Judge Juan M. Merchan, to decline, claiming the judge has conflicts because a relative of his has worked with Democrats.
After Mr. Trump took office as president, he and his allies turned their anger several times at law enforcement officials involved in investigations close to him.
For example, after federal agents searched the office of Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney at the time, for evidence of campaign finance violations in 2018, Rudolph W. Giuliani, another attorney close to Trump, opened an attack on the FBI
Mr. Giuliani stated that the FBI’s New York office — with whom he had once worked closely as the US Attorney in Manhattan — had behaved like “stormtroopers” during the raid, the same language Mr. Cohn had used years earlier.
But how Mr. Trump approaches the special counsel’s investigations will probably most closely match how he tried to fight the Mueller investigation.
Mr. Trump repeatedly attacked the FBI and prosecutors working for Mr. Mueller, calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt. Mr. Trump and his allies sought to destroy the legitimacy of the investigation by mixing up issues that internal Justice Department investigators later discovered and distorting facts alleged by John Durham, another special prosecutor who has been investigating the investigation in Russia. scrutinized, were used in his own research.