Articles

Trump Invited This Indictment

June 15, 2023
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America has been plunged into an unprecedented crisis by the indictment of Donald Trump on 37 felony counts, including obstructing an investigation, making false statements, and 31 violations of the Espionage Act for the unlawful retention of national-defense secrets. 

Unlike Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s charges of falsifying business records, this indictment is devastating in its rigor of evidence and the seriousness of the alleged crimes. Even so, the case will further tear our country apart, as it has a heavy impact on the presidential campaign and—wrongly—undermines confidence in our justice system. 

The blame for this calamity rests solely on Mr. Trump and his childish impulse to keep mementos from his time in the Oval Office, no matter what the law says.

One of the relevant statutes is the Presidential Records Act, which states that “the United States shall reserve and retain complete ownership, possession, and control of presidential records.” The PRA defines these in the most expansive way imaginable. Essentially every scrap of paper, text or email the president or his staff creates or receives is a presidential record, except his personal diary, private political materials unrelated to the presidency, and campaign papers.

None of that apparently mattered to Mr. Trump. Before he left Washington in January 2021, he ordered a fleet of trucks to carry away hundreds of boxes of letters, reports, memos and other documents he’d received as president. The indictment says these included information about “defense and weapons capabilities” of both the U.S. and foreign countries, American nuclear programs, our and allies’ “potential vulnerabilities . . . to military attack,” and “plans for possible retaliation” to an attack.

Those documents didn’t belong to Mr. Trump, and he surely knew that. The president’s lawyers and staff must have warned him he couldn’t take the files. His top aides with security clearances had been made well aware of classified documents’ sensitivity, having all signed acknowledgments “that the unauthorized disclosure, unauthorized retention, or negligent handling” of classified information “could cause irreparable injury” to the country, for which the government “may seek any remedy available.”

It also had to have been explained to Mr. Trump that the White House Office of Records Management kept a list of the documents he received and the National Security Council maintained a log of the classified documents he saw. He must have known these inventories would be shared with the National Archives and Records Administration, so that NARA would know if he improperly took documents. 

That’s why in May 2021 the archives began requesting their return. When Mr. Trump sent some records back in January 2022, NARA knew he had more. When his lawyers said in June 2022 that after a “diligent search,” all remaining “responsive documents” had been returned, the Federal Bureau of Investigation knew that wasn’t true. It took a search warrant two months later to collect the rest of them.

Mr. Trump says there’s no criminal penalty for violating the Presidential Records Act. That’s true, but it only highlights how damning his behavior was. Congress thought a law so simple and clear would be honored by anyone entrusted with the presidency. Instead of living up to his office, Mr. Trump treated it and America’s national security flippantly, taking thousands of presidential records, among them hundreds of highly classified documents. It should have been evident to anyone who once occupied the Oval Office that documents containing some of the nation’s most important secrets shouldn’t be treated as trophies, shared with private guests, discussed with political associates or stored in bathrooms or ballrooms. Any staffer found guilty of doing that would go to prison for breaking the laws protecting the nation’s secrets, as Mr. Trump is now charged.

America has been plunged into an unprecedented crisis by the indictment of Donald Trump on 37 felony counts, including obstructing an investigation, making false statements, and 31 violations of the Espionage Act for the unlawful retention of national-defense secrets. 

Unlike Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s charges of falsifying business records, this indictment is devastating in its rigor of evidence and the seriousness of the alleged crimes. Even so, the case will further tear our country apart, as it has a heavy impact on the presidential campaign and—wrongly—undermines confidence in our justice system. 

The blame for this calamity rests solely on Mr. Trump and his childish impulse to keep mementos from his time in the Oval Office, no matter what the law says.

Read More at the WSJ

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