In the grand scheme of things, Donald Trump has bigger problems to deal with than 15 boxes of papers.
Or his toilet practices.
After all, the former president is under investigation in Washington, New York and Georgia for allegations ranging from improperly pressuring officials to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s victory to possible fraud at the Trump Organization. He is in a war of words with Mitch McConnell, who accuses him of inciting the Capitol “insurrection,” and is accusing Mike Pence of failing in his duty to “overturn the election.” He is backing the RNC’s censure of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for helping probe “legitimate political discourse” on Jan. 6. And he is trying to elect like-minded Republicans in the midterms and defeat critics he dismisses as RINOs.
Barron Trump, right, stands with then-President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump on the South Lawn of the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention in Washington, Aug. 27, 2020.
Against that backdrop, how he handled some White House documents might seem like a mere footnote.
But it’s more serious than that, and throws a very harsh spotlight on hypocrisy in the political and media world.
Trump has now turned over to the National Archives the papers he took to Mar-a-Lago, said to include his correspondence with Kim Jong-un and the famous hurricane map he altered with a Sharpie to buttress his argument with federal weather forecasters.
But The New York Times reported Thursday that the Archives has “discovered what it believed was classified information in documents Donald J. Trump had taken with him from the White House as he left office,” according to an unnamed source.
And The Washington Post reports that Archives officials have referred the matter to the Justice Department.
Now this touches a nerve because Trump used the handling of government documents as a major issue against Hillary Clinton in 2016. It was a legitimate story that she used a private email server as secretary of state, questions were raised about whether she transmitted some classified documents, and she handled it horribly by taking weeks to apologize.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, watches President Donald Trump walk past him as they gather for the group photo at the start of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
(Associated Press )
Candidate Trump pounded away (“Russia, if you’re listening…) at the Democratic candidate for deleting 33,000 emails she said were personal. All this was heavily covered by the press – Hillary’s defenders said way overcovered – especially when Jim Comey reopened the FBI’s investigation at the tail end of the campaign.
Haywire over Hillary
But now you have Republicans and conservative media outlets that went utterly haywire over Hillary’s emails largely silent over Trump spiriting away government documents that one report says included classified material.
And you have Democrats and liberal media outlets infuriated about Trump’s Mar-a-Lago stash who insisted that the Clinton story was overblown and she did nothing wrong. Selective outrage is Washington’s ethos.
Trump said in a statement: “The papers were given easily and without conflict and on a very friendly basis, which is different from the accounts being drawn up by the Fake News Media. In fact, it was viewed as routine and ‘no big deal.’”
The bigness of the deal remains to be seen, but these papers were never supposed to leave the White House.
Back in 2005, Sandy Berger, Bill Clinton’s former national security adviser, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of secretly taking home classified documents from the National Archives. He was fined $50,000 and sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. And that was treated as a very big story.
I don’t think Trump will be, or should be, prosecuted over these papers. But the law is meant to enforce transparency in government.
President Donald Trump waves as he boards Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, on his final day in office, Jan. 20, 2021. Trump was heading to his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, resort.
Meanwhile, Axios reported Thursday on a story from a forthcoming book by New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. In “Confidence Man,” she says, staffers in the White House residence sometimes discovered wads of paper clogging a toilet, and that they believed the president had flushed down these scraps. Not exactly the most foolproof method, to be sure. Earlier reports say Trump occasionally ripped up White House documents and aides had to tape them back together to hand over to the Archives.
In his statement, Trump described that as “another fake story, that I flushed papers and documents down a White House toilet, is categorically untrue and simply made up by a reporter in order to get publicity for a mostly fictitious book.”
Left unmentioned: Trump has granted Haberman, who covered him for years in New York before he got into politics, several interviews for the book.
Now of course Haberman, who discussed the scoop on CNN, is trying to drum up some attention for a book that comes out this fall. But it’s not clear how Trump has divined that the unfinished book is “mostly fictitious,” since no one has seen it yet.