Given the nature of American national security, we may never know the exact contents of the documents FBI agents extracted from Mar-a-Lago last week. But we can already see what Donald Trump’s defense will look like.
These documents cannot be classified, Trump and his allies say, because at one point he unilaterally declassified them, even though the Fed still says they are classified.
It’s like carrying around a magic declassification wand. He is Harry Potter in the House of Treason.
Let’s get a few things straight. If you are President, as I understand it, you have the right to release any documents you want. But there is a process for that. They are supposed to submit these documents to the relevant authorities for review, and then they must be formally categorized as released.
That should go without saying, but since we’re not exactly putting it on basic civics these days, let me add that past presidents can’t declassify anything. That would be like Bill Clinton trying to issue a retrospective pardon.
By the way, if you’re wondering how desperate the Conservative movement has become, consider Charles Stimson of the Heritage Foundation, who told NBC News: “There’s a lot of debate about whether a document will be declassified when a President has decided but not communicated outside of his own head”. For real. And where exactly is this rich debate about presidential telepathy taking place? That stranger things Fan page? But let’s put aside this whole obscure question of what is properly classified and what isn’t. We’ll learn more in the coming days about why the FBI suspects Trump may have violated national security laws, including the Espionage Act.
The bigger point here is that the whole fiasco underscores what is most troubling about Trump’s tenure in the White House. Trump acted more or less as President, but the underlying concept of the Presidency somehow always eluded him. Everyone who preceded Trump accepted the idea of the office being held in a sacred and temporary trust.
The White House and everything that goes with it – the salutes and planes, sofas and carpets, the strange things that people get when they are abroad – belong to the country and its history, not you. They are only hired to manage the place for a while.
Even Richard Nixon, inventor of the so-called imperial presidency, was made to understand this at the end. He left Washington for the last time on something called Air Force One and landed in California on a flight redesignated SAM 27000 (SAM stands for “Special Air Mission”). Somewhere in the skies he lost the office and all the loot that came with it, including the plane’s special status. Every American boy who’s seen it Hamilton understands this concept of temporary leadership, but Trump just didn’t get it.
After Trump came into office due to a popular uprising, he imagined he had been sent to Washington not to restore government institutions but to replace them.
In Trump’s worldview, he acquired the office and the generals and state secrets just as he once acquired the Eastern Air Lines shuttle, and this whole idea that he was privileged to serve was a bunch of Deep State nonsense.
I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that he saw himself as an American Putin – elected perhaps, but ruling at the will of a stronger current than fleeting public favor.
Other presidents, including Joe Biden, have often spoken of the immense honor of holding the office, mindful of the predecessors they admired and the unfinished business they would leave to their successors. You can correct me here, but can anyone recall an instance where Trump reflected on his obligations to history? No, Trump seemed oddly disinterested in all of this, even dismissing Abraham Lincoln’s influence as “questionable.” Trump has not said whether he ever considered a future with a president other than himself.
So, of course, Trump refused to leave the job until he was forced to, and of course he stuck to material that clearly belonged in the public domain. If the presidency is an acquisition rather than an opportunity to serve, then you are rightfully yours to do with all that goes with it as you will.
Up until this week, I wasn’t sure Trump would actually run again and risk losing a primary, let alone a general election. But now I’m assuming he will, if only because he wants to regain control of the government forces that are rapidly moving against him.
When the Feds burst into Trump’s Chamber of Secrets, they unleashed something dark and predatory within. It’s now Trump or democracy. I have a hard time imagining how we would end up with both of them.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/fbi-raid-underlines-donald-trumps-warped-grasp-of-what-the-us-presidency-means-41914164.html The FBI raid underscores Donald Trump’s distorted understanding of what the US presidency means