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Trump’s Best Defense Is No Defense at All
Even if Trump’s most shameless defenders are right, his mishandling of classified information should still bar him—and them—from the public trust.
THE GRAVAMEN OF THE CASE against Donald Trump is that he is a threat to the national security of the United States. The indictment against him alleges he retained some of the nation’s nuclear and national defense secrets after he left office, stored them carelessly at a resort where thousands of individuals could access them, showed at least two classified documents to individuals who had no security clearance, refused to return the documents even after receiving a federal subpoena, directed others to hide them from his own lawyers who might feel compelled to honor the subpoena, and even hinted to one of those lawyers that it might be best if the lawyer made the most damaging documents disappear altogether. So, what does the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee believe is the best defense against these charges?
On Sunday, Rep. Jim Jordan said, in essence, it doesn’t matter because Donald Trump declassified all the documents before he left the White House. (Never mind that the indictment quotes Trump saying in July 2021 about one of the documents he’s showing to an unauthorized person: “See as president I could have declassified it . . . Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”)
Jordan would have us believe that Trump declassified the documents identified in the indictment as “concerning nuclear weaponry of the United States,” “military contingency planning of the United States,” “projected regional military capabilities of a foreign country and the United States,” “military operations against United States forces and others,” “timeline and details of an attack in a foreign country,” as well as several others identified individually as involving “military capabilities of a foreign country and the United States.” Even if Jordan is right—which he isn’t—that Trump had declassified these documents, that’s hardly a defense of Trump’s behavior except in the narrowest legal sense. Even if he had declassified hundreds of classified documents within his powers as president—which, again, all the evidence and his own admission suggest he didn't do—he still would have created the most dangerous information leak of the twenty-first century, if not American history. Even in Jordan’s scenario, Trump’s behavior sinks dangerously close to “adhering to [the United States’s] Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort”—the constitutional definition of Treason.
Declassifying a trove of information about our nuclear weapons, our military vulnerabilities and those of our allies, and our contingency planning in case of attack would hand to Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei, and Kim Jong-un the playbook to launch a strike against the United States. It would mean that the New York Times, Washington Post, and any media outlet could obtain the data with a mere FOIA request. Forget the “Top Secret,” “Special Compartmented Intelligence,” and “No Foreign” markings on the documents obtained when the FBI executed a search warrant on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property. Forget that the documents had been scattered about the resort on a ballroom stage, in a toilet, in hallways. In Jordan’s view, “If [Trump] wants to store material in a box, in a bathroom, if he wants to store it in a box on a stage, he can do that.”
Let that sink in. The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee thinks it’s perfectly fine to store nuclear secrets in a box on an open stage. And he thinks that federal prosecutors who’ve taken an oath to protect the United States from all threats foreign and domestic are weaponizing the government if they try to secure these nuclear and other national security secrets in their rightful place.
There is nothing Trump can do that his sycophants will not excuse and defend. They defended him when he bragged about grabbing women by the genitals, when he encouraged his supporters to beat up protesters exercising their First Amendment rights at his rallies, when he refused to concede an election he lost, when he did nothing for nearly three hours as a violent mob attacked the U.S. Capitol, injuring 114 police officers, when he invited antisemites to dine with him at Mar-a-Lago, and, now, when he stored nuclear secrets in unsecured boxes in public areas of a resort.
Trump’s enablers pose a clear and present danger to the United States. So long as they believe that his possession and handling of nuclear and national security secrets was justified, not one of them should ever be trusted with such secrets again.
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