We know what kind Donald Trump did: he fled the White House with classified and top secret documents that belonged to the US government; he mishandled these highly confidential records in his Mar-a-Largo lair (see below). A photo); he resisted government attempts to obtain these records; he hired a team of lawyers who falsely confirmed that all classified material had been returned; and his actions prompted the Justice Department to investigate whether he and his team obstructed justice or violated other federal laws, including the Espionage Act.
big question Why. Why did FPOTUS, as it was dubbed in Justice Department court documents, escape with the most secret documents, including records based on confidential human sources? It seems clear that this was not an accident. If this were unintentional, Trump and his aides would have responded quickly to requests from the National Archives for the return of goods and would have sent back all the requested materials, not just a part. And if they didn’t mistakenly return a full set of top-secret documents, they would presumably grab and FedEx the rest back as soon as the Archive and the FBI reported that the ex-boyfriend was still inappropriately in possession of his board’s classified documents. .
While incompetence in such matters cannot be discounted, the known evidence suggests that Trump really very wanted to keep these documents. However, in its legal filings following the FBI raid on Trump’s club, the Justice Department did not provide an opinion on Trump’s motives. But that hasn’t stopped the frenzy of online speculation. And it shouldn’t. Given that Trump ran for president in 2016, accusing Hillary Clinton of damaging national security by using a private server for her email when she was secretary of state and the oath that he “will enforce all laws relating to the protection of classified information”, this scandal is another latest sign of the brazen hypocrisy and egregious corruption that underpins his MAGA demagoguery and its acceptance by the Republican Party. This case requires careful study, including the reasons for Trump’s apparent violation of the law. So let’s look at a few possible explanations.
Double agent theory. The most outlandish idea is that Trump held on to these papers because he wanted to sell or pass on these secrets to another government. Russians? Saudis? He’s either an operative in cahoots with a foreign power, or an operator looking to cash in. While Trump has a history of passing classified information to Moscow, it’s hard to imagine that he is plotting to sell secrets. This will entail a fair amount of organization and hard work. It’s not easy being a spy. And these days, FPOTUS has less troublesome ways to put together a package. Trump is pocketing money from the Saudis for hosting golf tournaments. (Jared Kushner’s private equity fund put in a whopping $2 billion from a fund controlled by Mohammad bin Salman, the bloodthirsty leader of Saudi Arabia.) Trump may want to share top US government secrets with some foreign governments because he feels close to them or their leaders. (See Vladimir Putin.) But if he read these documents—or was informed about them and paid attention to them—he could communicate information without possessing the records themselves.
They are mine! Throughout his presidency, Trump has demonstrated that he firmly believes in the old French adage: l’etat est moi. He was not a guardian of the US government and a servant of the national interest; he was the government and its interests were the interests of the government. From this distorted perspective, all these records belong to him and exist for his good. He has exclusivity and can control how they are used. Perhaps he believes that some of these recordings can help him prove one of the many false conspiracy theories he has promoted over the years. Perhaps he wants to use them for his memoirs. Or show them to your buddies at the Mar-a-Lago buffet? Or one day put them on display in your presidential museum? (Will he charge his MAGA followers an entry fee?) Why should anyone else own his love letters to North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un? Anger is a big part of Trump’s psychological algorithm. It’s not hard to imagine Trump being despised by voters and fired from the presidency, defiantly holding on to documents he wasn’t allowed to keep and shooting at the (deep state!) bureaucrats and intelligence community he despised. My, my, my.
Give me ammo. Was Trump thinking about using these documents when he grabbed them as he left the White House? Can this material be used somehow or used as a weapon? Did he have ammunition that could be used against his political enemies? How often does Trump ask himself, “What would Roy Cohn do?” Cohn, Trump’s former lawyer, was a notorious extortionist and blackmailer. Legend has it that he dumped dirt, including sexual material, on current and potential opponents. If there was something in those boxes that Trump could one day use to undermine or destroy an opponent, he would probably have a hard time parting with it. According to Justice Department documents, materials seized by the FBI during the Trump Club raid included “information” about French President Emmanuel Macron. Hmmm. rolling stone reported that Trump had bragged for years that he had scandalous intelligence-gathering information about Macron’s sex life. Something spicy about the French president? Of course, Trump would like to keep it. Who knows when it might come in handy? Or it could just be a celebratory favor he could flash to impress his buddies in Mar-a-Lago. Trump is deeply offended by the US intelligence community, to the point where he may want to harm him. Were there secrets in those boxes that he could use or reveal to achieve this goal? As I have written several times, one of Trump’s main motivators is revenge, a cousin of malice. He is obsessed with revenge and acknowledged it as the driving force behind many of his decisions. As he told an audience in 2011, “One of the things you have to do in terms of success is if someone hits you, you have to hit them five times harder than they ever thought possible. You have to win back.” Undoubtedly, Trump left the White House with a great desire for revenge. These documents could help him take revenge.
We can’t let anyone know about this! Public court documents in this case do not indicate whether these documents are a hodgepodge of records or focus on specific issues. But one possibility is that Trump stole them not to use them, but because he didn’t want anyone else to see them. Can they chronicle decisions or episodes during his presidency that he would like to keep undisclosed? It is possible that copies of this material may be kept in public archives. However, Trump may have stolen tapes that he believes could embarrass or pose a danger to him. (Imagine a transcript of one of his private conversations with Putin.) Of course, if these documents fell into that category, Trump would probably have protected them better than these boxes as a whole. But care and competence are not always present in Trumpworld. If this collection of stolen papers contained secrets that Trump must hide for his own protection, he certainly wouldn’t think twice about breaking the law to do so.
Justice Department documents suggest that Trump’s actions were deliberate. He stole these records and kept them – despite the government’s pleas for their return – for a reason. In most criminal investigations, motivation is a key element. The FBI determined that Hillary Clinton’s handling of the tapes, which included classified material, was negligent and violated the rules, but she had no intention of circumventing the law. If the Justice Department does indict Trump or his henchmen, it will have to decide on motives. If this happens, Trump will not be able to plead ignorance. His statements during the 2016 election campaign show that he was well aware of the possible criminality of mishandling classified information. And there is nothing surprising in how he broke the law in this episode. What needs to be revealed is why Trump acted so recklessly. Considering how inept Trump’s legal response has been so far, and how strong the Justice Department’s argument looks at this point, Trump’s motives may eventually take their place in court.