Trouble at Mar-a-Lago: Here’s what you need to know

Kayla Goldman, Staff Writer

The issues at Mar-a-Lago left former president Donald Trump caught in more legal trouble than ever before, and the media is taking advantage of this. The legalities are being lost in a sea of misinformation and chaos. The simplicities are nowhere to be found. The most important fact missing: this is truly not an interesting case. It is actually quite basic. 

The concepts of this legal mess are quite normal, but the characters make it all the more intriguing to the readers and viewers. Media is spewing misinformation that doesn’t focus on the importance of the case itself, instead focusing on details that confuse the public. 

While this is partially due to a general lack of understanding, the problem is mostly caused by the newness of the affair. “To think that America is an exception to the rule of corruption would be wrong,” said Montclair High School history teacher Jonathan Mancinelli. The public cannot wrap their minds around a scandalous event occurring with such powerful people, and that is mixing with their desire for the actual facts. 

The Mar-a-Lago case is very simple, said MHS history teacher William Wingren. “It’s actually a very cut and dry Fourth Amendment, search warrant, search and seizure case.” 

After  President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, he moved his belongings to his Mar-a-lago residence in Florida and took some souvenirs with him. 

When a president leaves office, they are only allowed to take their personal items. Everything else must remain in the White House. “In 1978 Congress passed a law called the Presidential Records Act, which requires the president to turn over anything: correspondence, paperwork, and whatever else has to be turned into the National Archives,” said Wingren.

Trump’s moving boxes weren’t only filled with his belongings. He, or someone on his team– this is still unclear – packed some crucial documents, for reasons that remain unknown.  It was discovered that the documents were classified, and a possible danger to the United States. 

When the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) identified the documents as lost, the speculation called for great alarm. Because of such a state of panic, NARA asked for Trump’s team to hand over all documents in their possession. After an extended period of time, they did so willingly.

The gift of receiving their own property back was cause for great celebration in the NARA, but this happiness was soon dampened by the realization that not everything that had gone missing was returned. The investigation of the lost documents had to be opened again. 

A home visit was scheduled. “… the archives [NARA] went to his residence to get the materials; they [Trump’s team] turned over all the information. Then when they got to looking at what he turned back, they realized that there was still a lot that he didn’t give back, so they obtained a warrant, they did a search and they found more [documents],” said Wingren. 

Part of the “scandal” of this case is that the documents were top secret. “For the laws that have been broken, potentially, or allegedly, it actually doesn’t matter that they’re top secret materials,” said Wingren. 

The primary focus of the media is on the confiscated documents themselves, and while they play a large role in the case they are not actually the most important part. Trump, or his team, broke multiple laws. They were in possession of government documents related to national security, and they knew the details of the items being taken. 

The public knew that Trump  possessed national defense related documents, but the latter wasn’t introduced until he used his public Twitter platform to write an aggravated tweet about the FBI throwing the documents “haphazardly” on the floor, proving he knew the documents were in his house in the first place. In a sense, he partially convicted himself.. 

This wasn’t a breaking down the door running inside with guns raid; it was a standard search and seizure knocking on the front door activity. Using the word raid has a harsh connotation, and is unrealistic to the matter at hand. The media uses it to dramatize the event.  

As for the court hearings themselves, the prosecution team is the NARA and the Department of Justice, DOJ, and the defendants are Trump and his legal team. The DOJ is prosecuting Trump for possessing the government documents. Trump is claiming that he declassified the documents, therefore he is allowed to keep them in his home.

Is declassification a red herring? One could say so, since it has already been reiterated that classification levels do not matter in this case. 

Though Trump has seemingly been focused on the unimportant classification argument, his team is choosing more efficient methods of defense, such as asking the judge to allow for a Special Master to review the documents taken. A Special Master sounds exciting, but it is just an outside party who will come in and review the documents to make sure the prosecution didn’t confiscate any personal items. This is a standard procedure. 

Though the legal jargon may seem outlandish, the case is incredibly average except for the parties involved. No president has ever been on trial for so many things at once, though there is little chance Trump will be prosecuted this close to the next election year.

“The Justice Department has stayed away from [Trump] because their fear is that if they get involved in prosecuting a crime while somebody is actually running for office, they could theoretically manipulate the election,” said Wingren.

The outcome of the case is yet to be determined. “If the law is on his side, it will bear fruit for him, and if it’s not, it will bear fruit for the Department of Justice,” said Mancinelli. Only time will tell.