A lot of people have clearly written about this, but I also want to weigh in because I have a unique perspective. My first real job was working for a defense contractor in a TS/SCI classified environment. I’ve handled literally millions of pages of classified documents so the full-on craziness of what Trump has done here is not at all lost on me.
One thing we already know about Trump is that he has no respect for the law and no respect for document retention procedures, and hasn’t for decades. As Kurt Eichenwald documents, he had a tendency to destroy and hide documents from courts and legal procedures going all the way back to the 70’s.
For months, the Trumps ignored the government’s discovery demands, even though court procedure in a civil or criminal case requires each side to produce relevant documents in a timely manner. This allows for the plaintiffs or prosecutors to develop more evidence in support of their claims, as well as for the defense to gather proof to fight the case against them. When litigation is filed or even contemplated, scrupulous lawyers and corporations immediately impose document-retention programs or require that any shredding or disposing of records be halted. Courts have handed down severe sanctions or even criminal charges of obstruction of justice against executives and companies that destroyed records because they knew they were going to be sued.
Yet when the government filed its standard discovery requests, the Trumps reacted as though seeking that information was outrageous. They argued in court that prosecutors had no case and wanted to riffle through corporate files on a fishing expedition. Once again, this led to more delays, more replies, more hearings…and another specious argument thrown out of court.
Six months after the original filing, the case was nowhere because the Trumps had repeatedly ignored the deadlines to produce records and answers to questions, known as interrogatories. When a government attorney finally telephoned a Trump lawyer to find out why, he was told the Trumps had not even begun preparing their answers and had no plans to do so. The Trumps also postponed and blocked depositions, refused to provide a description of their records, as required, and would not turn over any documents.
Trump and his companies ignored subpoenas and destroyed emails that were under court order indiscriminately. We know due to press reports that Trump’s companies kept separate books for the value of the properties, increasing the value for banks and loans while lowering the value for the assessment of taxes. New York Attorney General Letitia James has been trying to gain access to the filing cabinet located inside Trump Tower that has hundreds of hand-written notes by Trump adjusting these valuations to his particular whims, but has been stonewalled.
James’ team also argued Trump has not provided documents responsive to the subpoena. While the memorandum noted Trump “famously does not use email or a computer,” it said there were voluminous records from the former president. According to testimony from Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten, Trump “regularly generated handwritten documents” and “there were file cabinets … containing Mr. Trump’s files.” Garten, who did not respond to a request for comment, also said Trump “used Post-It Notes to communicate with employees.”
“This game must end. Mr. Trump should be ordered to produce all responsive documents in his possession, custody, or control, including those within the possession of the Trump Organization,” the memorandum said.
So this behavior by Trump in regards to the National Archives is really just his normal behavior. This is the bullshit that he does.
First I want to point out that whether the documents are classified or not is actually a side issue. The FBI noted 18 USC 2071 as part of their reasons for the search warrant and that law doesn’t involve classified documents at all. It’s about the removal of any government document.
(b)Whoever, having the custody of any such record, proceeding, map, book, document, paper, or other thing, willfully and unlawfully conceals, removes, mutilates, obliterates, falsifies, or destroys the same, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both; and shall forfeit his office and be disqualified from holding any office under the United States.
Anyway, here we have former FBI Deputy Counter-Intelligence Head Peter Strozk commenting on Trump’s behavior just after he stated for the record that there were multiple search warrants served in the Hillary Clinton email investigation — an investigation which he personally headed up. Then he’s asked why does Trump have all this material?
Strozk: The intelligence community tried to get him to pay attention to the President’s daily brief. They tried and struggled to get him to listen to the intelligence. He’s happy to listen to Vladimir Putin, but he had no appetite to sit and listen to what it was that folks inside the intelligence community were trying to tell him. Now he’s out of office, and he suddenly pivots to take 27 boxes of classified material that he couldn’t be bothered to read? He’s not writing some details memoir about the political ins and outs of what he accomplished in the middle-east or with North Korea. It makes no sense why he would keep it. And that really, when you look at what it is that he appears to have had, it’s really troubling.
That is the question, isn’t it? Why does he have all this? We do know that none of these items were part of the Presidential Daily Brief because those are delivered on iPads, not on paper. Perhaps we need another source on the subject, like Gen. John Kelly.
“A Trump adviser said the former president’s reluctance to relinquish the records stems from his belief that many items created during his term — photos, notes, even a model of Air Force One built to show off a new paint job he had commissioned — are now his personal property, despite a law dating to the 1970s that decreed otherwise,” the newspaper reported.
The newspaper interviewed Kelly, who also served as Secretary of Homeland Security and as a four-star Marine Corps general.
“His sense was that the people who are in the intel business are incompetent, and he knew better,” Kelly said. “He didn’t believe in the classification system.”
Former national security adviser John Bolton told the newspaper, “almost nothing would surprise me about what’s in the documents at Mar-a-Lago.”
“People were nervous enough about his lack of concern for classification matters that the briefers typically said, ‘Well, we need to take it back,’” Bolton said. “He’d usually give it back — but sometimes he wouldn’t give it back.”
Trump treated White House documents like his own private property. He didn’t believe in the classification system which is established by law. He ignored the rules, he ignored what intelligence professionals told him — HE THOUGHT HE WAS SMARTER.
Why does Trump have boxes and boxes of documents? Because he’s so stupid he thinks he can. He thinks he’s a King, that he’s all-powerful. And frankly, it’s hard to show an example of where that hasn’t been true after the entire Mueller investigation and two separate impeachments. There might be some strategy to the documents he retained on some level but look at his behavior overall.
He has throughout his entire business career hid, hoarded and destroyed documents that were incriminating and damaging. He won’t use email. He won’t use text messages. He passes hand-written notes back and forth like a fourth grader then he flushes them down the toilet to cover his tracks. He’s like a mob boss trying to constantly destroy the trail of evidence he’s left behind.
At the same time, he has a massive cabinet in his office full of these types of notes. He’s like a mad magpie cobbling up scraps of paper a squireling them away for safekeeping. It doesn’t make sense, and that itself may explain everything. It’s not logical, it’s pathological. As the character Danny Witwer states in Minority Report; It’s an “Orgy of Evidence.” He likes to keep the truly incriminating stuff close to him where he can control it and ensure that no one else can access it unless he chooses. He did it with his company, he did it with his Presidency.
He just couldn’t help himself. While he was President his staff would repeatedly tell him not to tear up documents — but he wouldn’t listen.
Trump’s style of handling White House documents has been described by people who worked for him as slapdash and ad hoc, contributing to the debacle he now faces. He was known to rip up records that aides would have to retrieve from trash cans or from the floor and tape back together, according to former aides and multiple reports.
“It worried people all the time,” John Bolton, one of Trump’s former national security advisers, recalled in an interview.
“Trump had a habit of grabbing intelligence documents,” said Bolton, who has been a sharp critic of the former president. “God knows what he did with it.”
Since he himself revealed that the FBI search warrant was implemented on Mar-A-Lago, he has auditioned excuse after excuse as a method to squirm his way out of it.
First, he claimed that “They could have just asked?” for the documents. Now we’ve learned that they did ask, with a subpoena, back in June. They followed that up with a visit and took 15 boxes of material back to the National Archives, then Trump himself signed a document that proclaimed that he “didn’t have any more classified documents” in his possession. Uh huh.
Second, he claimed that the FBI has “Planted” documents. That idea has been shot down by the fact that his lawyers were watching the FBI perform their search on the remote surveillance cameras available at Mar-A-Lago. If they have any evidence that the FBI “planted” anything — it would be on tape. Also, the FBI would *know* that it would end up on tape because they found out about the documents in the basement by subpoenaing those very same surveillance tapes.
Third, he tried to complain that Barack Obama had “taken” 33 Million documents for his Presidential Library as if that was done the same way. It wasn’t. Obama took no documents at all, everything at his library are copies of documents that are on loan from the National Archives. The Archives have all the originals, they have all the documents. Classified or Not.
Fourth, he then tried to assert that this set of boxes were documents that he had decided to take out of the Oval Office to his residence for further review and that he had “automatically” declassified them each time he did that.
That is a pile of horse shit.
The President can not just “automatically” declassify documents with a wave of his wand and Expelliarmos them away. There is a declassification process that includes having the original classifying agency conform that the information no longer needs to be protected and then remarking the “caveats.”
From working in a TS/SCI environment I can tell you that each and every page of classified documents have to have a caveat in the margins which identifies its security level. One of my jobs was actually making sure every document we printed in the IT department was properly marked. Any mismarked documents had to be destroyed, immediately. Documents when not in use or being reviewed are to be stored in locked and secured file cabinets, and that’s inside an already classified building, room or SCIF, even if the owner has to walk away from their desk or go the restroom for just a moment— the documents have to first be secured, they can’t be left laying around without a person attending them.
Statuses of Classified, Secret, Top Secret and TS/SCI are all specified in the margins. When that document is declassified, the markings in the margins have to be changed and crossed out — they are stamped by the NSC, a new written classification is added and there are notes indicating the original classification agency, and the declassification date. Also, anything else that remains classified has to be redacted, and anything that was classified by statute rather than executive order — such as Nuclear documents — can’t be declassified by the President.
If you look here at James Comey’s declassified notes from his encounters with Trump you can see the classification caveat on each page, and the caveat modifications which are hand-written. This is the process.
If documents Trump took back to his residence were “automatically” declassified, each and every one of them would have gone through this process and the original markings we’ve now been told were on the documents — would have been replaced with “Unclassified” and any other portions that were still classified would have been redacted.
I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest based on everything that has been reported so far: that’s not the case. The documents haven’t been remarked or else they all really would be “unclassified” and they haven’t been redacted. [So lets just realize that Trump keeping these documents in his residence — sitting in a bunch of boxes — is impossibly wrong because it’s not like Baron, Melania or anyone he had visit him there has TS/SCI Clearance, because they don’t and it’s not like any of the documents were redacted because they weren’t’]
Lately, besides begging Merrick Garland to “turn down the heat” while members of Fox News and the GOP are physically and legislatively threatening the FBI, he’s demanded the FBI “return the privileged documents to where they found them immediately” — which is totally nuts because he doesn’t have privilege anymore — and he’s gone back to excuse #2 and again suggested that the “planted” evidence even while admitting that he and his family had them on surveillance the entire time.
He concluded, “The whole World was watching as the FBI rummaged through the house, including the former First Lady’s closets (and clothing!), alone and unchecked. They even demanded that the security cameras be turned off (we refused), but there was no way of knowing if what they took was legitimate, or was there a “plant?” This was, after all, the FBI!”
So you’re saying the cameras were “On?” That would be one way of knowing, wouldn’t it? And if the documents were “planted” how did “privileged” documents get among them? Wouldn’t those documents come from — you? How would they plant those?
These are the excuses of a raging ignorant dumb ass. They’re pathetic and ridiculous. He’s literally making up bullshit on the fly and he should — for his own sake — shut the frack up because all of his nonsense could come back and bite him in court just as it did Alex Jones. He shouldn’t have had any documents at all, period. They don’t belong to him, they belong to the American people.
When I worked with this defense contractor one of the other employees, who had gotten massively behind on his credit card payments due to frequent trips to the Bahamas, decided to take two documents home. He then called the Russian embassy in San Francisco and offered to sell them. They hung up because they knew their phone was bugged, but the FBI called him back because it was them who had bugged the phone. They met in a local hotel and arrested him on the spot — he is in prison now doing two concurrent life sentences.
What Trump has done here is tantamount to Eric Snowden, Reality Winner, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange without absolutely any of their “Government Whistle-Blower” sheen. He wasn’t exposing any wrong-doing or misdeeds by the government — other than potentially his own, accidentally. And just remember that Winner and Manning both got solitary confinement. Manning was sentenced to 35 years in Leavenworth. This is where Trump belongs.
So, I’m telling you that the manner in which the FBI executed this search warrant was extremely polite and sensitive to the former White House resident. They could have him and members of his staff who they watched moving documents around in custody right now if they wanted.
And I’m not the only one that thinks so.
Law Prof. Rick Hasen wrote, “Do any of us doubt that someone besides Trump or someone in Trump’s orbit who lied about possessing such documents and didn’t give them back would already be held in custody pending further proceedings?”
Attorney Pam Keith said Attorney General Merrick Garland “still hasn’t detained or even questioned Trump. People are acting like that’s normal or justifiable. Given what we know, It’s INSANE!!”
They have not done that. He should be in custody already.
I suspect they will subpoena those members of his staff to talk to the grand jury and identify if their actions were a direct result of Trump’s orders. They will discover if the reason for the documents being there are because of Trump or not.
Exactly why they are there will be part of that questioning.
Many theories abound, most of whom center around the idea that Trump was using the documents in his wheeling and dealing with Foreign governments and companies. We already know how much he likes to brag and show off like when he verbally blurted out TS/SCI classified info from Israel to impress Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak in front of Live Russian TV. Or that time he tweeted a classified satellite photo of Iran. That was smooth. Then he had all the notes destroyed when he had a private meeting with Putin in Helsinki. Exactly why did the Saudis sign a $2 Billion investment deal with Jared Kushner when he couldn’t keep 666 Park Ave going as an investment without the help of the Qatar Investment fund? What could information on Nuclear Weapons/Energy be used for in regards to the Saudis — especially after Michael Flynn tried to get a joint US/Russia project together for building Nuclear power plants for the Saudis? How could Putin benefit from having inside information on our Nuclear programs? Who could benefit from having inside information on French President Emmanuel Macron? All of these could be business opportunities to Trump — also known as espionage.
Perhaps, like he apparently does with his business fraud with his own company, he was compulsively collecting all of what he thought was negative evidence against him from these various documents in an effort to keep them away from being visible to the public. We already know what happened when other people had access to his phone call with Zelensky don’t we? He’s only “safe” if he has all the incriminating evidence under his control where no one else can see it.
On the other hand, there might not be a specific organized plan at work. This may not have been a collection of after-the-fact business opportunities for Trump but rather collections of data that sparked his conspiratorial National Enquirer-focused mind. Considering that in truth he is a full-on Qanon believer even on some of the wackiest of their dribblings about the “Deep State” and globalization there is almost no telling how wild and ridiculous some of the items he decided to keep — while throwing the actually valuable intelligence away — just might be.
Or it could be a weird concoction of all the above. Trying ridiculously to hide his dirty work in the Government by grabbing up the evidence as if the missing documents wouldn’t be noticed, plotting to profit or advance his own private goals, and also building his own document fort of conspiratorial nonsense because he has a mad deluded compulsion to do so.
Right now we don’t know… but what I do know is this.
We have an orgy of evidence.
We already know he’s guilty — it’s just a matter of how guilty
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.