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Trump's history of trying to stop investigations and withhold records

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Critics of the FBI's search of former President Donald Trump's residence in Florida say Trump had been cooperating and a raid was unnecessary. But Trump has a record of trying to fend off investigations and withholding business and personal records. Ilya Marritz covers Trump's legal battles for NPR, and he's with us now from New York. Ilya, can we start with just a quick snapshot of some of these recent Trump investigations?

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Yeah, there's a very relevant and recent example in the state of New York, where I am, where the former president was held in contempt of court and fined over $100,000 just this spring for failing to cooperate with a request for documents. The state attorney general here, Letitia James, has been doing a civil investigation of Trump business practices. And again and again, her lawyers have said Trump is stonewalling them. For instance, he only produced 10 documents that were in his personal possession. The judge overseeing this finally held Trump in contempt of court. It is the only time this has happened with a former president, as far as I know. It played out at the same time that investigators were looking for White House documents taken to Mar-A-Lago.

MARTINEZ: Now, a lot of this goes back to his time as a businessman. I mean, how far back does this go?

MARRITZ: There's so many examples of Trump trying to stymie probes into his company. One that stands out for me is from the year 2000. Back then, there was a move to legalize gambling in New York, so Trump mounted a secret campaign to fight casino legalization here because it would have threatened his casinos in Atlantic City. Regulators finally figured out what was going on. Trump did not admit wrongdoing, but he agreed to pay a quarter-million dollars, which was then the biggest lobbying fine in New York history. It's a revealing look at how Trump used secrecy to advance his business interests.

MARTINEZ: And he brought secrecy to the White House as well.

MARRITZ: Very much so. In 2019, I interviewed a former federal records analyst named Solomon Lartey. His job was collecting presidential records for preservation, and the work was pretty much the same from Clinton to Bush to Obama. But it changed under Trump because Trump had this habit of ripping up documents with his own hands. Lartey told me they developed procedures for dealing with the pieces, like precisely what kind of tape was to be used to reassemble the documents.

And there's so many more examples of this kind of thing. Trump resisted publishing logs of visitors to the White House. He didn't cooperate with the 2019 impeachment probe, and he fought a House committee's efforts to review his tax returns. Now, just yesterday, a three-judge panel ruled that that House committee can see his tax returns that they've been asking for since 2019. The lesson here is that Trump is very good at running out the clock.

MARTINEZ: How does this FBI search at Mar-A-Lago relate to other Justice Department efforts to get documents from the former president?

MARRITZ: Former prosecutors have told us that federal raids aren't executed if there's another way to get documents. So what that suggests is that the Justice Department's requests for records at some point were frustrated. And we've seen that in other investigations as well - most notably, the House Select Committee's January 6 investigation, where Trump went to the Supreme Court to try to block the committee from getting documents. And he failed, but there are still gaps. The schedules and phone logs for Donald Trump from the afternoon of January 6, 2021, are blank. So big picture - there's a lot of probes around this former president. Of course, investigators want to see documents, and in almost every case, there has been a fight.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Ilya Marritz. Thanks a lot.

MARRITZ: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ilya Marritz