Trump’s mishandling of classified docs just got tougher to defend
Trump can’t claim he didn’t know he was improperly taking classified materials if they were clearly marked as “top secret.”
As the public learned this week about Donald Trump “improperly removing” White House documents, the former president’s aides characterized the records as largely trivial. The Republican’s team told The Washington Post that the items that found their way to Mar-a-Lago “included correspondence with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which Trump once described as ‘love letters,’ as well as a letter left for Trump by President Barack Obama.”
The explanation wasn’t especially credible at the time, and soon after, it started unraveling. For one thing, the controversy wasn’t about a handful of records; it was about 15 boxes filled with documents Trump wasn’t supposed to take. For another, the materials weren’t just harmless keepsakes; they reportedly included sensitive records believed to be classified.
But, the former president’s allies might argue, perhaps Trump didn’t know the documents included classified information. Wouldn’t that make this a bit less controversial? Perhaps, but the latest Washington Post report makes the defense very difficult to believe.
Some of the White House documents that Donald Trump improperly took to his Mar-a-Lago residence were clearly marked as classified, including documents at the “top secret” level, according to two people familiar with the matter. The existence of clearly marked classified documents in the trove — which has not previously been reported — is likely to intensify the legal pressure that Trump or his staffers could face, and raises new questions about why the materials were taken out of the White House.
Though we don’t yet know exactly how many of these documents Trump took with him after leaving office, the reporting added, some of the materials “bore markings that the information was extremely sensitive and would be limited to a small group of officials with authority to view such highly classified information.”
The reporting has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News.
As for the “top secret” designation, the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office notes that the classification is applied to information where unauthorized disclosure “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.”
In other words, the former president stands accused of improperly taking highly sensitive secrets — which were clearly marked as classified — to his Florida golf club, indifferent to the national security risks he was creating.
Perhaps, Trump’s allies might claim, this wasn’t too great a risk because Mar-a-Lago is a secure, private venue. That would be a nice try, but it would also be wrong: Politico reported during the first year of Trump’s term, “The president’s semi-public Florida retreat doesn’t follow the same strict background check protocol as the White House, creating an espionage risk.” Two months later, Pro Publica ran a related piece with an ominous headline: “Any Half-Decent Hacker Could Break Into Mar-a-Lago.”
Is it any wonder why the National Archives has referred all of this to the Justice Department as a possible criminal matter?
By way of a defense, Trump issued a written statement yesterday that seemed to compare his alleged mishandling of White House documents to Hillary Clinton’s emails. Putting aside the weak attempts at whataboutism, the former president may not have thought this through: Is he saying his actions are comparable to those of a woman he believes should be incarcerated?
Has Trump been reduced to effectively saying, “Clinton was a criminal, and what I did is analogous to what she did?”Steve Benen
Steve Benen is a producer for “The Rachel Maddow Show,” the editor of MaddowBlog and an MSNBC political contributor. He’s also the bestselling author of “The Impostors: How Republicans Quit Governing and Seized American Politics.”