Saturday, June 03, 2023


Did Donald Trump brandish a classified document he'd taken from the White House and refuse to show it to visitors because he knew they weren't authorized to see it? And does this prove that Trump understands how classification works after all?

My theory: Trump wasn't holding a classified document. He was bluffing. That's why his people can't find the document he described on tape in 2021.
Shortly after learning that former President Donald J. Trump had been recorded discussing what appeared to be classified material describing military options for confronting Iran, federal prosecutors issued a subpoena to his lawyers seeking the return of all records that resembled the document he mentioned, two people familiar with the matter said on Friday.

But Mr. Trump’s legal team has informed the Justice Department that it was unable to find any such records in his possession, the people said.
According to the original CNN story about this recording, in July 2021 Trump met with "two people working on the autobiography of Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows as well as aides employed by the former president." Just prior to the meeting,
The New Yorker published a story by Susan Glasser detailing how, in the final days of Trump’s presidency, [General Mark] Milley instructed the Joint Chiefs to ensure Trump issued no illegal orders and that he be informed if there was any concern. The story infuriated Trump.

Glasser reported that in the months following the election, Milley repeatedly argued against striking Iran and was concerned Trump “might set in motion a full-scale conflict that was not justified.” Milley and others talked Trump out of taking such a drastic action, according to the New Yorker story.

On the recording and in response to the story, Trump brings up the document, which he says came from Milley. Trump told those in the room that if he could show it to people, it would undermine what Milley was saying, the sources said. One source says Trump refers to the document as if it is in front of him.
Trump was waving a document around that he insisted was proof he was right and Milley was wrong, but he wouldn't show it to his visitors? Then he was bluffing. If the document in his hands actually said what he told them it said, he would have shown it to them. He doesn't care about classification.

I can't tell whether this is smoking-gun proof that Trump knows he illegally took classified documents, as opposed to believing that he'd already declassified every marked document in his possession. I can imagine his lawyers arguing that of course he'd declassified every marked document in his possession, but, in his infinite wisdom, he thought it best not to show this document to his guests. (Nevertheless, he could have, legally, and it definitely said what he told them it said!)

Trump's bluster on one day won't necessarily be consistent with his bluster on another day. When it suits him, he says he declassified every document he took from the White House -- but when he wants to claim he's right in a dispute, he says a classified document proves he's right, and it's too bad other people can't read it.

This reminds me of the way he talked about COVID in early 2020. He wanted to use the Power of Positive Thinking to will the virus into non-existence, so he told the public it would fade away in the spring. But when he wanted to impress Bob Woodward -- Trump was the president of the United States, but couldn't shake his lifelong habit of wanting to impress reporters -- he told Woodward that the virus was extraordinarily dangerous. (He wanted Woodward to be impressed at the consequential matters he was dealing with.)

Trump goes with whatever bullshit suits him in the moment. The only question is whether there'll be consequences this time.

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