I debated whether to chime in with my paltry two cents on the Trump indictment. Don’t know if my comments provide any value, and I doubt the little chirps coming from this little blog will break through the roar we hear re that indictment. That said, and with all humility, this is why I blog.
Here goes . . .
While at State, I spent some 34 years handling classified info all the way to the top of the classification chain. Ninety percent of it was rubbish of no real consequence when written and classified, and certainly not after two or three years have passed.
The prosecutors in Biden’s DOJ have leaked photos of bankers’ boxes piled up in various rooms of Trump’s residence, implying that those boxes brim with classified material. We have no idea if that’s true. I suspect most of that stuff consists of newspaper clippings, inconsequential memos, and, oh, newspaper clippings, and letters to and from Trump, and–did I mention?–newspaper clippings. The sort of stuff former government officials keep to write barely readable memoirs.
Actually, and this point bears repeating and repeating, the content of those boxes is irrelevant.
We might not like it, and our allies might and should get nervous about it, but under our system the President has absolute authority to declassify material AND to take it home as personal records. Beaten into us at the State Department was the knowledge that our ability to classify material, and I shamefully admit that I classified a lot, comes FROM and ONLY from the President. He can override any classification. The President can grab a binder of the most sensitive material, and read it at a press conference; politically not wise, but legal. The famous Bill Clinton “sock drawer” case emphasized that: an Obama-appointed judge ruled that Clinton had the authority to declassify AND take home as his personal records ANY material produced by the Executive branch. No exceptions. Full stop. The President, in our structure, DOES NOT COME UNDER the authority of some faceless bureaucrat in a government archives office.
I find tiring to hear that the Trump case differs from those of Pence and Biden who “immediately” returned to the archives the classified material once that material was found in their possession. First, we don’t know if that’s true in the Pence case, and it’s certainly not true in the Biden case; second, most important, neither man had the authority to take classified to his home or his office. The cases, in other words, are different because neither Bide nor Pence was President at the time they took the classified material! Biden had been taking material for decades. Neither had the authority to declassify and remove classified documents. In Biden’s case, it seems about 100 percent certain that he shared still-classified material with his crack-addled son who used it to “write” papers about Ukraine and European politics for clients.
Has Trump handled this in the best way possible? You decide. I think, maybe, he could have handled the request from the archives office to return documents in a better, less confrontational way, while saying, “No. Those are my papers.” Maybe.
Now, you will rightly note, that what I just wrote naively assumes that the request was well-intentioned. It, of course, was not.