Trump Derangement Syndrome has spread, infecting politicians in the cult once known as the Republican Party. They went bananas following the FBI’s execution of a search warrant signed by a (Trump appointed) judge on his country-club-cum home at Mar-a-Lago. Trump’s home state senator, Marco Rubio, wandered into the Twilight Zone attacking “Trump’s enemies” including the FBI, Attorney General Merrick Garland, the IRS and supporters of gay marriage. Singling out Rubio is unfair. The House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy led other Congressional Republicans vowing investigations, trials and jail time for Garland and the Trump-appointed FBI Director, Christopher Wray. Senator Lindsay Graham implicitly threatened to call out “mobs in the streets” were the Justice Department to follow the law and indict Trump. Other Trumplican politicians joined forces with “Black Lives Matter” and added “defund the FBI” to the BLM slogan “defund the police.” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump mimic/rival opined that the Biden administration had weaponized political power against their enemies. Given DeSantis’ recent record at weaponizing political power against anyone who dares cross him (even Disney World) in Florida, he should know what he is talking about.
But enough political theater. History will record the Trumpian hysteria as one of the most bizarre moments in US politics. Unless, of course, DeSantis takes advantage of Trump’s legal vulnerabilities, runs for and wins the Presidency and then adds all newspaper, magazines and electronic records to the bonfires to which he has consigned Florida’s school libraries.
Trump’s political supporters have given us the theater of the absurd. His professional apologists have attempted to create a seemingly objective case in his defense. They proffer three arguments.
“It’s indisputable that presidents have the authority to declassify documents.” They assert that Trump declassified the documents before taking them and therefore no harm no foul.
“What about?” – a literary device to squirm out of a tight hole. His apologists argue that other Presidents have also taken official documents home with them when they left the White House. For example, they accuse Barack Obama of taking “millions of pages” to his library in Chicago.
“No President has ever suffered such disrespect.” They argue that we must respect Presidents, (or at least this one) no matter what they do and for as long as they live.
His apologists count on the not unreasonable assumption that their readers lack any knowledge of the law and will ignore the facts. Let’s begin with declassification. Trump (or his apologists) may imagine he can wave his magic rod at boxes of assorted papers and declare them “unclassified” like Moses parting the Red Sea; it doesn’t work that way. Declassifying requires both process and paperwork. His legal team has not yet produced the formal document the law requires confirming that Trump did declassify documents and enumerating which ones. If any of the above were true, Trump’s lawyers would have produced the evidence instead of apparently perjuring themselves when they claimed that everything had been returned. This may explain why he is having difficulty recruiting legal counsel. (The fact that he mostly stiffs his lawyers on their fees may also be a factor.)
The declassification process requires formal notification to everyone who may have access to the documents or who might be affected by their declassification now that they are freely available to anyone. For example, declassifying documents that protect the “sources and methods” of our intelligence services requires warning our agents to flee first; if not, a lot of people will die. As of this writing, it appears that such documents were found at Mar-a-Lago.
In another example, the affidavit requesting the search warrant states that some documents found in the first batch retrieved from Mar-a-Lago came with an “ORCON” designation. ORCON for the uninitiated means “Originator Controlled” and usually applies to classified information given us by foreign governments. Intelligence exchange agreements stipulate that no US official, not even the President, can declassify those documents without the permission of the originating foreign government.
As of this writing it appears that documents marked “SCI” (our penetration of foreign communications) and “TK” (information gathered by our most advanced surveillance satellites) were found scattered randomly at Mar-a-Lago. If foreign governments, even friendly ones, access these documents they can neutralize US intelligence investment running to hundreds of billions of dollars.
Trump took truckloads of documents marked Top Secret TS/ followed by TK, ORCON and SCI to his unprotected private home attached to a country club accessible to hundreds if not thousands of people, scattered them around the property and then lied when asked about it (or at least his lawyers did).
As to the “what about” dodge, Obama stored unclassified Presidential documents, with the permission of the National Archives, in an Archives-owned secure facility near his Library to digitize them, they were stored in Chicago, not in his library. They were (and are currently) always under the control of the Archives.
Bereft of any valid legal argument, Trump’s apologists fake outrage at the “disrespect” shown a former President. One earns respect. Trump has disrespected (or worse) hundreds of people. The list is almost endless. He called Hillary Clinton “a nasty woman,” bragged about assaulting women, called Ted Cruz’s wife ugly, and made denigrating remarks about Marco Rubio’s anatomy. After years of disgracing the Presidency, Trump merits no respect.
Finally, his apologists hope no one noticed Trump’s uncontested violation of the Presidential Records Act of 1978 (PRA), enacted after Nixon and Watergate. PRA establishes that Presidential records automatically transfer into the legal custody of the Archivist as soon as the President leaves office. The law is clear. Trump had no legal right to take the records to Mar-a-Lago, period. The discussion about classification is a red herring. There is no defense.
In summary, his apologists hope to convince his followers that Trump is above the law, like in banana republics.