Sunday August 28, 2022

Trump ‘a danger’ to democracy, national security

Trump ‘a danger’ to democracy, national security

Donald Trump

Donald Trump is fighting four criminal investigations while campaigning to be chosen as the Republican party’s presidential candidate. He is facing indictment in New York City over dubious business practices, prosecution in Georgia for demanding officials overturn the result in that state of the 2020 presidential election, a Congressional probe into his actions during the January 2021 riot at the Capitol in Washington, and appropriating dangerous documents when he left the White House.

These cases show Trump is not only a danger to democracy for trying to subvert elections and mount a coup but also poses a threat to US national security.

Of the four, US legal experts argue Trump could be at greatest risk of prosecution for the crime of trying to suborn officials in Georgia to commit fraud although his retention of documents could be more damaging if he has exposed highly classified material to individuals not cleared for access or to foreign agents or governments.

On August 5th, the US Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) received a warrent to search Trump’s Mar-a-Largo home in Florida for missing documents of national importance.

On the 8th, a team of plain clothes FBI agents entered, thoroughly searched the premises, and took away 27 boxes containing 300 unique documents constituting 700 pages of classified material, which where found in an unsecured room in the basement, a bedroom and elsewhere. A Trump lawyer was present during the search and signed off on the haul.

Trump, who was in New York at the time, cried foul, claimed the FBI has broken into his “safe,” and demanded his lawyers “get my documents back.” He also claimed he had unilaterally “declassified” the documents while in office. However, he did not stick to the procedure for declassification and his staff did not recall any effort he made to declassify documents.

Before he left the White House he was told not to take away any official documents which, under law, were to be turned over to the National Archives. During his stay in the White House he had, reportedly, squirreled away dozens of documents which he should have returned after consulting them. They formed tall piles on desks and tables in and around the Oval Office where presidents work and meet staff and visitors. Members of his entourage revealed that his last few days in office were chaotic. He had made no prior preparations due to his insistence he did not lose the election.

Consquently, classified documents were packed along with magazines, press clippings, newspapers, photos and other material. His chief-of-staff Mark Meadows organised the packing ahead of Trump’s protesting, helter-skelter departure.

The affidavit authorizing the search gave agents permission to search for all “physical documents and records constituting evidence, contraband, fruits of crime, or other items illegally possessed in violation of three potential crimes.”

First, the search was carried out to see if Trump and staff have violated provisions of the Espionage Act of 1917 which prohibits gathering, transmitting (particularly to a foreign person or power), or losing national defence intelligence. For handing over classified information to a foreign government, the punishment is life in prison or death.

Second, as Trump was known to have torn up documents and flushed them down the toilet while in office, the warrant also covered destroying, concealing and mutilating government documents. It was discovered that he made handwritten notes on some.

Third, Trump could be accused of obstruction of efforts to recover the documents because he did not hand over the entire collection when approached to do so by the National Archives and ignored a subpoena in mid-2022.

Half of the 32-page affidavit was “redacted,” blotted out, after being assessed as constituting a risk to national security.

The National Archives’ quest for documents began in earnest as soon as he left office and the first call for Trump to hand over material still in his possession came in February 2021. After pro- longed delays National Archives officials collected 15 boxes of documents in January 2022. All but one contained 184 documents classified as “confidential,” “secret,” and “top secret.” The latter contained “Humint,” information on US spies operating abroad and domestic informants and could compro- mise their work and put them at risk.

In June, Trump’s lawyers met with a senior Justice Department official and handed over further material but this did not satisfy either the National Archive which had conducted interviews with valets and White House staff while carrying out a review of the January haul. It became clear Trump continued to hold onto documents which his lawyers said he would deliver but he did not — hence the FBI search of Mar-a-Largo.

Commenting on his presidency, Trump declared, “We were not a regular administration.” Indeed, since moving into the White House, he considered himself equivalent to a monarch who owns all he surveys. This, perhaps, could be the reason he held onto so much confidential material and disposed of it haphazardly at the Mar-al-Largo club and his Florida residence which he had dubbed the “Winter White House.” It remains to be seen if there is further material hidden in his New York home or at his golf clubs.

How he fares from the charges laid on him for stealing ultra-sensitive documents will depend the national intelligence probe into on damage he may have inflicted.

The only recent high profile case of classified documents being shared illegally involved ex-Central Intelligence Agency director David Petraeus, a former four star general who gave his highly classified journals to his mistress, Paula Broadwell, a former Army Reserve officer who was writing his biography. He initially denied he had given her the books but was compelled to admit guilt when entering a plea bargain. Instead of serving a year in jail, he was given two years probation and a fine of $40,000. Petraeus was considered a “war hero” for quelling Iraqi resistance to the US occupation of that country and a potential presidential candidate. His punishment was no more than a slap on the wrist for committing a felony. Other, low profile US military personnel who shared secrets with foreign powers did not fare as well.

 Trump’s theft of hundreds of documents, lying about it, and refusal to hand them over constitute far graver crimes. While in office, Trump repeatedly demonstrated that he was not intellectually, psychologically, and morally fit to be president of any country and certainly not the US. This remains true even though his supporters refuse to admit that this is the case. He calls the search for and seizure of his documents a “witch hunt,” which it may be because he is a witch who has cast a wicked spell over millions of his fellow citizens who cannot see he is a serious threat to the US and the entire world. Instead of generating energy to “Make America Great Again,” he is the symbol of US decline into impetuousness, lawlessness, and regression.

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