, 06.16.2023 01:16 AM

My latest: the Felon-in-Chief

Want to protect classified government documents?

Tuck them in old bound volumes of legislative committee proceedings. Nobody will ever find and read them, guaranteed.

Unfortunately, however, people in government have a bizarre fetish for stamping every document SECRET or TOP SECRET in bold red letters at the top. Which presumably makes the person doing the stamping feel important.

And which all but guarantees the TOP SECRET document that isn’t really TOP SECRET will always get read first.

And, sometimes, kept.

That was Donald Trump’s dilemma, Tuesday afternoon, as his entourage piloted their way to Miami’s federal courthouse for his arraignment: he had succumbed to the seductive power of TOP SECRET-stamped documents. He had taken some 13,000 government documents when he was kicked out of the Oval Office, prosecutors allege, and more than 300 of them bore classified markings. Like TOP SECRET.

Trump’s problem isn’t that he was sloppy with allegedly sensitive government information. No less than Hillary Clinton did likewise, a few years back, and she was admonished by the FBI for “extremely careless handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

The former President’s problem is this: he took secret stuff with him when he left town, and he hid them all when politely asked to send back the secret stuff. Hell, Trump even – prosecutors say – hid his stash of classified documents in gilded bathrooms and ballrooms and bedrooms at his Mar-a-Lago compound from his own lawyer. His own lawyer!

Why? Why would he (allegedly) do something so deeply, profoundly dumb as that?

It could be that he actually believed he had already declassified them by “thinking about it,” which he has claimed presidents can do. It could be that he was convinced that the obscure Presidential Records Act – which I guarantee you he has never read, and never will – permitted him to hold onto classified information.

Could be. More likely, methinks, is that holding onto those documents – many spilling out onto the floor of a Mar-a-Lago bathroom, photos of which were helpfully attached to the indictment on 37 counts – made him feel important. It made him feel powerful.

That, certainly, seems to be the legal theory of the taciturn federal prosecutor, Jack Smith, who previously worked at The Hague and squashed war criminals like they were June Bugs. That Trump – according to the indictment he grimly received on Tuesday afternoon – showed the classified documents to Mar-a-Lago guests and said: “See, as president, I could’ve declassified it. Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”

Still a secret.

Ouch. That’s mens rea and actus reus right there in two pithy sentences, folks: Trump allegedly admitted he took secrets, and he knew they were secret. Boom. Gotcha.

The prosecution Donald J. Trump is facing in Miami isn’t like the one he is facing in New York City. The latter is seamy and sordid, involving alleged hush payments to a whackadoodle porn star, and a novel legal theory that seeks to magically transform state misdemeanors into federal felonies. It’ll fail.

The Miami prosecution is very, very different. Most of the time, those caught stealing U.S. government information plead guilty, because the cases are virtually impossible to defend.

If Trump had sent the classified stuff back to Washington, it wouldn’t have mattered that it was more than two years after the fact. He would’ve gotten away with it, as Hillary Clinton did.

But Trump willfully – and, yes, allegedly – took steps to hide the fact that he had TOP SECRET stuff. That’s his big, big problem. Never the break in, always the cover up: it’s the cover up that always gets you. (Take note, Justin Trudeau.)

As he contemplates possibly running for President from a cot in a jail cell, Donald Trump may well finally understand one truth. It’ll make his predicament feel way worse.

Namely, most of the government documents always stamped SECRET?

They just aren’t.


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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Ty Cobb said he’s already dead. More than likely he is in a court room…but for his lawyers and jury consultants who will try to sausage, pretzel or at the very least massage the grand jury selection process. Interesting.

    Remember, they don’t need acquittals. All they need is the Mother of All Jury Deadlocks in the Florida Southern District. Like I said, interesting.

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    Lynn says:


    Very interesting and largely true in my experience. Or slap “advice to cabinet” on everything to try to hide things that are not really advice to anyone. Games with documents infuriate the record managers, librarians and archivists. I digress.

    I have watched this with great interest as a person who, as a former librarian, was in the business of holding of records and documents, reports, correspondence etc. for future generations, and for the public interest.

    Even in my small government library I held documents and rare items that were kept under lock and key. Permission was needed to see the docs and I never let them out of my sight. They were not copied and they never left the building. In a larger library I worked at we held some very special and rare collections, we were even stricter about who could see what and they needed a good reason (research purposes or permission from third parties to access the materials). And yes, some individuals got annoyed at the rules. Rant and rave and tell me who you are and why you are so important, but the documents stays here.

    So many questions must be answered when internal gov docs go missing: are these copies or originals, were did he get them, from files in his office or was he getting peons to print documents for him for some nefarious purpose. Who held the original file, if he does not have an original and has copies? Has he made any copies of the docs and given them to anyone? who? And many more questions about the holding and distribution of the materials that he took.

    How this “stable genius” ever thought he could walk out with records and think m’eh no big deal means this man has never used a research library, archives etc in his life. Missing records and documents are a big deal.

    Never piss off a librarian or records person; we get mean and very insistent that you return our stuff to the right place. I hope that Trump gets a paper cut that gets infected.

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    Sean says:

    I remain convinced that the four main cases – SD / Documents / Georgia / Jan 6th have been deliberately timed up based on the level of seriousness / likelihood of conviction. They started with the weakest and are proceeding to the strongest.

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    Douglas W says:

    Trump lawyers: Yup, my client had government documents.
    Were they really top-secret documents?
    The prosecution says, yes they were.
    My client says, no they weren’t.
    So, what’s the prosecutions definition of top-secret documents?
    Let’s lay all these documents before the court and public, and let the court decide if first and foremost, they’re really top secret.
    Interesting card to plaay.

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      Douglas W says:


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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      As you know, Trump’s lawyers are in the process of getting national security clearances so they can examine many of the documents in-camera. I understand that each document and its sleeve has the appropriate markings which designate its classification level. So, IMHO, Trump’s lawyers are already skating on incredibly thin ice as regards document classification.

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