It’s Donald Trump vs. the FBI — and America can’t look past the fight, to see the truth
Democrats see a criminal finally getting what’s coming to him. Republicans see a martyr for the right-wing cause of freedom.
The wonder and sadness of an itemized list, released Friday, of records seized from former U.S. president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate is that both sides of the American political divide came away with views that are diametrically opposed.
The list — part of a search warrant unsealed by a Florida judge — was detailed enough to suggest breaches of a federal law related to espionage and vague enough for Trump’s defenders to conclude that the FBI was engaged in another of its groundless Deep State fishing trips.
It revealed that investigators had removed 20 boxes of classified items, including four sets of records marked “Top Secret” — the most sensitive designation in the American classification hierarchy — three marked “Secret” and another three marked “Confidential.”
Apart from one item that pertains to the “President of France” and another about the presidential pardon Trump granted to his friend, Roger Stone, we don’t know exactly what was contained in the documents.
More importantly, no one has yet explained why the documents were, at once, so sensitive that they necessitated a police raid, yet why the government only chose only to act now — a year and a half after Trump’s removal from the White House.
A fuller explanation is presumably contained in the still-sealed affidavit submitted to the judge by investigators to justify the search warrant, which U.S. media are petitioning to be made public.
A report from the Washington Post said some documents are believed to contain information about nuclear weapons, while the New York Times reported there were concerns about documents in Trump’s possession with details of “special access programs.”
These are among the most closely guarded government secrets, related to sensitive operations, technologies or capabilities — information that is shared on a “need-to-know” basis.
Trump no longer needs access to such information as an ex-president, albeit one with barely veiled intentions to see the presidency again in 2024.
Writing on his social media accounts Friday, Trump said the documents were “all declassified” and could have been obtained by police “anytime they wanted without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago.”
“ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK,” he wrote.
Breaches of U.S. laws meant to protect national security can result in serious jail time. The maximum penalty for gathering, transmitting or losing defence documents — covered under the federal Espionage Act — is 10 years in prison.
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But past instances of officials caught playing fast and loose with sensitive documents have more often tended toward leniency.
Former general and CIA director David Petraeus got two years’ probation and a $100,000 fine for sharing classified information with his biographer and lover while former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger paid a $50,000 fine for sneaking classified documents out of the National Archives in his pant leg.
The idea of top-secret presidential documents being stored in the confines of a private club — a historic seaside mansion with 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms that describes itself as “The Pinnacle of Palm Beach” — is just another strange chapter in the book of oddities marking Trump’s presidency and its aftermath.
The more disturbing aspect, however, is that the unprecedented Mar-a-Lago incursion has been met not with pause and soul-searching but with political entrenchment, a doubling down by Democrats and Republicans alike.
For partisans, it seems to matter little what Trump had or did not have in his possession, how he should or should not have acted, what crimes he may or may not have committed.
His opponents, meanwhile, see in the raid a long-overdue reckoning for a reckless politician who sullied the high office he occupied in a brief, but eventful four-year term.
“Just to be clear,” wrote Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman-turned-Trump critic, “we’re here once again because Donald Trump broke the law. Once again.”
And rather than reflect on Trump’s long-documented history of being careless with sensitive intelligence and defence information, as well as his perceived fondness for authoritarian rulers such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and others, Trump’s backers reflexively charge that the FBI probe is aimed at silencing and scuttling America’s right wing.
“It’s official. We are now fully immersed in yet another anti-Trump witch hunt,” declared Fox News host Sean Hannity, even before the documents were unsealed.
“They never ever seem to find the crime in the case of Donald Trump because one doesn’t exist.”
Therein lies the modern American political dilemma. Two sides observing the same situation and drawing polar-opposite conclusions.
Maybe the stakes are too high, and the political cleavages too deep, for Democrats to question the sudden, unexplained urgency of an FBI raid — one of the most drastic of investigative police techniques — or for Republicans to question the blind faith they have placed in their often-erratic former leader.
Or perhaps the prospect of Trump under attack, under investigation and perhaps under oath in his own future criminal defence is an image as important for rallying Democratic voters to the cause as it is in energizing their Republican counterparts for the next presidential election, which is just two years away.
Allan Woods is a Montreal-based staff reporter for the Star. He covers global and national affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @WoodsAllan
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