Images of President Donald Trump storing secret papers in a bathroom at his Florida residence are spreading across the internet. The media is reporting a ‘historic indictment’, but few are analysing what it is really about.
An American president has seen it all, he has been briefed on all the secrecy going on around the world, he probably knows who murdered JFK and whether it was really a UFO that crashed in Roswell.
Joking aside, the President is given all information of value, and he can take documents with him if necessary, and store them basically wherever he wants, as long as there is some security. He can also declassify them. The office comes with some power, as we can see.
After the president leaves office, he is asked to turn over public records (both classified and unclassified) to the National Archives under the Presidential Records Act, and this is done to ensure that records are not destroyed or degraded, so that future researchers and historians can get an idea of what happened during the period.
When the media shows pictures of Trump’s documents stacked in boxes, they know that this is not really a crime. At least the people who broke the news know it, then the text is spread to local newspapers and social media accounts around the world. Then the world is horrified by Trump’s carelessness and poor judgement.
The fact that Trump did not submit the documents (in time?) could possibly be a minor offence and result in a reprimand or a fine; I find it difficult to find a scale of punishment for such a procedure. The idea was not that ex-presidents should be prosecuted, but that the national archives should have access to the public documents.
Worse, Trump is also accused of espionage. Well, it’s not really espionage, but a kind of clause put in place during World War I to make it easier to weed out opponents of the war within the administration, called the Espionage Act of 1917. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have been particularly proud of this law, which may not reflect the country’s best legal behaviour.
Trump reportedly showed documents, or at least mentioned them to a third party. And with some good will, that could lead to a creative charge of espionage. But as I understand it, the prosecution is on pretty thin ice.
It’s probably about keeping Trump away from the election, constantly involving him in legal proceedings, and sucking the life out of the campaign. The Democrats see Trump as a difficult opponent for Biden, whose approval ratings are abysmal. In addition, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has come out of nowhere to challenge Biden from the left. The recurring allegations against Trump also correlate with allegations against Biden and his son’s dealings in Ukraine, which receive unusually little media attention. The concept of lawfare is in vogue.