There was a time, not too long ago actually, when Donald J. Trump said he cared about the sanctity of inside information. That, of course, was when his opponent was accused of jeopardizing him and has been a useful political weapon for Trump.
Throughout 2016, he criticized Hillary Clinton for using a private email server instead of a secure government one. “I will enforce all laws regarding the protection of classified information,” she said. « No one will be above the law. » Mrs. Clinton’s dismissive handling of sensitive information, she said, « disqualifies her from the presidency. »
Seven years later, Trump faces criminal charges for endangering national security by taking confidential documents when he left the White House and refusing to return them all even after being subpoenaed. Even in the US politics department going round, it’s pretty remarkable that the issue that helped propel Trump into the White House now threatens to ruin his chances of ever getting back there.
The indictment filed by a federal grand jury at the request of Special Counsel Jack Smith effectively brings the Trump story full circle. « Lock her up, » the crowds at his campaign rallies chanted to his encouragement. Now he could be the one locked up if convicted of one of seven reported charges that include conspiracy to obstruct justice and willful withholding of documents.
The indictment is the second leveled against the former president in recent months, but in many ways it eclipses the first both in terms of legal gravity and political danger. The first indictment, announced in March by the Manhattan District Attorney, accused Mr. Trump of falsifying company documents to cover up hidden money from an adult film actress who he claimed was on a sex date. The second is brought by a federal prosecutor representing the nation as a whole, the first in American history against a former president, and concerns the nation’s secrets.
While Trump’s defenders have tried to dismiss the former as the work of a local Democrat elected over issues that, however inconvenient, seem relatively petty and happened before he took office, the latest allegations stem directly from his responsibility as nation’s commander in chief to safeguard data that could be useful to America’s enemies.
Republican voters may not care if their leader slips money to a porn star to keep quiet, but will they be indifferent to the obstruction of authorities trying to recover clandestine material?
Perhaps. Mr. Trump certainly hopes so. Manhattan’s indictment only seemed to boost his ratings in polls rather than hurt him. And so he immediately launched the latest indictment as part of the most extravagant conspiracy in American history, which in his account appears to involve a diverse array of local and federal prosecutors, grand jurors, judges, plaintiffs, regulators and witnesses who all have lied. for years to frame him while he is the only one to tell the truth, regardless of the charges.
“I never thought it possible that such a thing could happen to a former President of the United States, who received far more votes than any sitting President in the history of our country, and currently leads, by far, all the Candidates, both Democrat and Republican, in the 2024 presidential election polls,” he wrote on his social media site, making multiple misleading claims in one sentence. “I AM AN INNOCENT MAN!”
So far, his main supporters have stuck with him, and even some of those running against him for next year’s Republican nomination have criticized the investigation against him. But he was recently found liable for sexual abuse in a civil trial, his company was found guilty of 17 counts of tax fraud and other felonies, and he still faces two other possible charges stemming from his attempt to overturn the election defeat of the 2020, which led to the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
The question, politically at least, is whether the piling up of all those indictments will one day weigh him down among Republican voters who otherwise like him, especially if there’s a third and perhaps fourth indictment. At least some of his rivals for the party nomination are counting on the fatigue factor that will eventually drain his support.
As for Mrs. Clinton, if she was feeling a little schadenfreude Thursday night, the defeated candidate herself wasn’t saying so. But she and her allies have long believed that then-FBI director James B. Comey’s reopening of the email investigation just days before the 2016 election cost her the victory that so many polls had claimed. expected.
Mr. Trump will try to turn the tables on his pursuers, arguing that the fact that he was indicted where Ms. Clinton was not is proof that he was being unjustly persecuted.
Never mind that the facts of the cases differ, that she appeared to have gone to great lengths to intentionally obstruct authorities trying to recover the secret documents for months as investigators concluded that Ms. Clinton was not intentionally trying to break the law. But it will be a useful political argument for Trump to insist that he is the victim of double standards.
Why, given the 2016 campaign, it failed to recognize the potential danger of mishandling classified information and take better care of it is another matter. But he spent much of his presidency ignoring concerns about information security and government document retention rules.
He disclosed highly classified information to Russian officials who visited him in the Oval Office. He has posted sensitive satellite images of Iran online. He continued to use an unsecured cell phone even after he was told he was being monitored by Russian and Chinese intelligence agencies. He ripped up official documents and threw them on the ground once he was done with them despite the laws requiring them to be saved and catalogued, leaving the helpers to pick up the torn pieces and put them back together.
Even faced with the consequences of his actions, Trump has never expressed concern. He was the president, after all, and he could do what he wanted. Even during the investigation into the classified documents he brought to Mar-a-Lago, he defended himself by claiming he had the power to declassify anything he chose just by thinking about it.
But he is no longer president. Now he will face not only primary voters who will decide whether he is disqualified from the presidency, but a prosecutor who says he will enforce laws protecting confidential information.
Mr. Trump will be classified as an accused felon and, in the absence of an unforeseen development, will ultimately be tried by a jury of his peers.
What a difference seven years make.