As it turns out, I was apparently wrong that Donald Trump’s docunapping of White House papers would likely be related to the January 6 assault on the Capitol. For once, I seem to have underestimated the man.
What we’ve learned from the FBI search at Mar-o-Lago is clearly worse than that, far worse, a worse-than-Nixon worse, a legal-jeopardy worse, an abuse-of-power worse, and I could go on, but I don’t want to be distracted, for now anyway, by the prospect — and only that — that Trump has finally, at long last, done himself in.
And yet, I must admit I can’t quite keep out of mind the fact that Trump is being investigated under the Espionage Act, which is, to put it mildly, a lot more serious than, say, keeping tchotchkes gathered on foreign trips. And let’s admit that many of us are wondering how many years an Espionage Act charge, if proved, could put one behind bars.
The first thing that struck me when it was discovered that Trump had squirreled away super-top, top-secret documents was what in the hell Trump planned to do with that stuff? These are documents that are held in top-secret-like secure locations, documents that were apparently nuclear related, documents classified/TS/SCI,” otherwise known as “top secret/sensitive compartmented information.”
Should we follow that money, or is that, even when regarding Trump, just a cliche by now? I’ll admit I’m stumped and want to know more. At some point, I hope to know at least as much as, say, Saudi Arabia does.
The second thing that struck me was the response of the Trumpocracy, its benighted congressional fellow travelers and the cultists who worship at Trump’s bone-spurred feet. Trumpists have been busily doxxing the judge magistrate who reportedly signed the search warrant, causing the judge’s synagogue, after fielding many anti-Semitic threats, to cancel Friday night services.
On one radical web site, someone posted of the judge, “I see a rope around his neck.” On another, someone posted it was time to give Trump’s enemies a “helicopter ride,” an apparent nod to the days when Chile’s Augusto Pinochet would drop his political opponents out of helicopters in a sadistic touch that not even Stalin had considered.
We’ve already seen one Trumpist try to breach the FBI headquarters in Cincinnati. He would eventually be killed by officials in a shootout. You can mark this down. There will be others. And I’m afraid it’s not unfair to consider that Lauren Boebert and her over-the-top friends should bear at least some responsibility for that assault and for whatever violence inevitably comes next. According to the Washington Post, the gunman had posted 374 times on Trump’s Truth Social site, most of the posts concerning the rigged-election Big Lie. But then there was this: On the day the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago, the gunman had posted: “Be ready to kill the enemy. Kill (the FBI) on sight.”
The search of the identities of the FBI agents involved at Mar-a-Lago had already begun. These would be the same FBI agents that Colorado’s own history-challenged Lauren Boebert had compared to the Gestapo, which didn’t simply round up documents to send to concentration camps. Marjorie Taylor Greene is hawking “DEFUND THE FBI” products. It seems that the names of two agents were published by Breitbart. Of course, they were. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had already threatened — not with force, fortunately — Merrick Garland that if the GOP takes over the House next year that Garland should preserve his documents and clear his calendar.
I’m old enough to remember when Republicans called themselves the law-and-order party. Now they’re for law and order unless it’s Trump who broke the law or Trump supporters who were arrested for rioting at the Capitol.
Some Republican leaders and even some Trump advisers have been calling for Trumpist officials to tone down the rhetoric. Unless they hear it from Trump himself, I doubt that will have much impact. Just ask Fox News or any of the pro-Trump web sites, much less the politicians. See: Rep. Elise Stafanik’s comments Friday after the seal on the search warrant had been officially lifted by an agreement with the Department of Justice and Trump.
On the other hand, Sarah Huckabee Sanders replied to one anti-FBI Boebert tweet thusly, “When you’re attacking FBI agents because you’re being investigated, you’re losing.”
I have no idea why Trump, who seems to be losing, agreed to lift the seal on the warrant. I know why he leaked word of the search warrant — because he knew he could play his greatest role, as victim, and that his followers would react just as they did. But lifting the seal told a far different and far more dangerous story.
Interestingly, Trump immediately cited the notion that Barack Hussein Obama — yes, he used the middle name — had sent millions of pages to his presidential library in Chicago. One problem, according to a National Archives spokesperson, these Obama documents are all under the scrutiny of, yes, the National Archives.
Trump made a big mistake, of course. He wasn’t counting on the hated media to turn up the fact that top-secret memos were still in Trump’s basement months long after they, and other documents, had been subpoenaed. Because of the unsealing, we now know that Trump was not only being investigated under the Espionage Act, but also for obstruction of justice and mishandling of government records.
Trump and his lawyers claimed that Trump, as a president has the power to do, had already declassified all the papers he had taken with him to Mar-a-Lago. There are at least a few issues here. One is that there are protocols for a president declassifying papers. No one believes — and no one has claimed — that Trump followed any of those protocols. This would be the classic magic wand defense — in which any piece of paper Trump has ever touched is automatically declassified, including the ones he apparently tore up or flushed down the toilet.
And, yes, I guess you’d have to include the ones that were supposedly planted there by the FBI. I’ll leave that logic there for you to deconstruct.
The problem with this defense is that the three possible charges that led to the search warrant have nothing whatsoever to do with whether the papers were declassified. Some experts claim — and I guess a judge may have to decide — that not even a president can simply declassify nuclear information by fiat. And more to the point, according to a number of experts, none of the charges potentially facing Trump rely on whether the documents are classified.
As an example, the Espionage Act was passed after World War I, long before presidents had the power to declassify documents. And here’s what the Espionage Act says: It outlaws the unauthorized retention of national security information that could harm the United States or aid a foreign adversary.
Trump, as we know, has been impeached twice. He has been sued countless times. He is the promulgator in chief of the Big Lie. He is under investigation by the Georgia attorney general, by the New York attorney general and others. And now he is being investigated by the Department of Justice for violating the Espionage Act for possibly keeping nuclear secrets in his basement.
I wish I thought that this would change anyone’s mind among those in the Trumpist camp. But I’m starting to get a feeling — for really the first time — that we may get a chance to see what’s in the minds of various jurors and judges across the country.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.