It’s Donald Trump versus the FBI – and Americans are sure they know who’s right
Democrats see a criminal finally getting his due. Republicans see a martyr for the right-wing freedom cause.
The wonder and sadness of a detailed list, released on Friday, of documents seized from the Mar-a-Lago estate of former US President Donald Trump is that both sides of the US political divide have walked away with diametrically opposed opinions.
The list — part of a search warrant unsealed by a Florida judge — was detailed enough to suggest violations of a federal espionage law and vague enough for Trump’s defenders to conclude that the FBI was engaged in another one of his baseless Deep State fishing trips.
He revealed that investigators had removed 20 boxes of classified items, including four sets of documents marked « Top Secret » – the most sensitive designation in the US classification hierarchy – three marked « Secret » and three others marked « Confidential ». .
Other than one item about 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 both so sensitive that they required a police raid, but why the government has only chosen to act now – a year and a half after the Trump’s withdrawal from the White House.
A more complete explanation is likely contained in the still sealed affidavit submitted to the judge by the investigators to justify the search warrant, which the American media asks to be made public.
A report from the Washington Post said that some documents would contain information on nuclear weapons, while New York Times reported that there were concerns about documents in Trump’s possession with details of « special access programs. »
It is among the best-kept 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 a former president, even though he has thinly veiled intentions to see the presidency again in 2024.
Writing on his social media accounts on Friday, Trump said the documents were « all declassified » and could have been obtained by police « at any time without playing politics and breaking into Mar-a-Lago. »
“ALL THEY HAD TO DO WAS ASK,” he wrote.
Violations of US laws designed to protect national security can result in serious prison sentences. The maximum penalty for the collection, transmission or loss of defense documents – covered by federal espionage law – is 10 years in prison.
But past examples of officials caught playing fast and loose with sensitive documents more often tend to show leniency.
Former CIA general and director David Petraeus received two years probation and a $100,000 fine for sharing classified information with his biographer and lover, while former security adviser national Sandy Berger paid a $50,000 fine for pulling classified National Archives documents out of his pant leg.
The idea that top-secret presidential documents are stored within the confines of a private club — a historic oceanfront mansion with 58 bedrooms and 33 bathrooms that describes itself as “The pinnacle of Palm Beach” — is not just another strange chapter in the book of oddities marking Trump’s presidency and its aftermath.
Most troubling, however, is that the unprecedented Mar-a-Lago foray was met not with pause and soul-searching, but with political entrenchment, doubled by Democrats and Republicans alike.
For supporters, it doesn’t matter what Trump had or didn’t have in his possession, how he should or shouldn’t have acted, what crimes he might or might not have committed.
His opponents, meanwhile, see the raid as a long-overdue judgment for a reckless politician who smeared the high office he held during a brief but turbulent 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. Again. »
And rather than ponder Trump’s long, documented history of being careless with sensitive intelligence and defense information, as well as his perceived penchant for authoritarian leaders such as Vladimir Putin of Russia, Kim Jong-Un of Korea du Nord and others, Trump supporters reflexively accuse that the FBI investigation is aimed at silencing and scuttling the American right.
« It’s official. We’re now fully immersed in yet another anti-Trump witch hunt, » Fox News host Sean Hannity said before the documents were even unsealed.
« They never seem to find the crime in Donald Trump’s case because none exists. »
Therein lies the modern American political dilemma. Two parties observing the same situation and drawing opposite polar conclusions.
Perhaps the stakes are too high and the political divides too deep for Democrats to question the sudden, unexplained urgency of an FBI raid — one of the most drastic police investigative techniques — or to that Republicans are questioning the blind faith they placed in their often erratic former leader.
Or perhaps the prospect of Trump being attacked, under investigation and possibly sworn in his own future criminal defense is as important an image to rallying Democratic voters to the cause as it is to energizing their Republican counterparts for the upcoming presidential election, which is just two years away.
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