Every time more information appears about just what was in those documents that Donald Trump stole from the White House and illegally held at Mar-a-Lago, the worse it seems. The latest information comes from The Washington Post, which reports that, among other things, the documents Trump is trying to claim were personal property contain, in part, information about Iran’s missile program, as well as secrets involving “highly sensitive intelligence work” involving China.
What kind of case might be made that Trump has a right to documents on either subject is simple: There is none. Simply holding these documents outside a secure area represents a national security threat. Either document might also contain information that reveals U.S. sources and methods, meaning that showing these documents to anyone represents not just a threat to international stability, but a direct risk to human intelligence and a setback for intelligence research.
At the same time, Trump’s legal team is engaged in its latest exchange with federal Judge Raymond Dearie, who was Trump’s personal pick to serve as “special master” in Trump’s fight to keep these documents squirreled away in his desk drawer. A final list of concerns about a subset of the documents was due to Dearie on Thursday. The DOJ met that deadline. Trump's team did not. Instead, they claimed they need more time, and that they’d get back to Dearie on Monday. That response is not going over well with the judge.
According to the Post, the documents concerning China and Iran were among the third batch of classified documents removed from Mar-a-Lago, those that were located only after an FBI team searched both a storage room and Trump’s office. According to their description, the documents connected to China are among the most classified possible.
These documents reportedly cover special access programs, known only to the president and select cabinet members, and “detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are not informed about them.”
These are precisely the kind of programs likely to generate the highest value information, and also those which are the most sensitive to any lapse in security. Such documents don’t have to list the names of informants and other sources to make them know. Just the nature of the information revealed—details of a conversation, a piece of technical data, images, or analysis—can be enough for Chinese or Iranian officials to finger those at the other end of such programs. At best, those assets are now worthless. At worst, they are dead; possibly after being “played back” to feed false information to U.S. intelligence.
Not only are these among the most sensitive documents that could have been in Trump’s possession, they’re also the least likely to have any legitimate possible reason to be found outside a secure environment. These are not Trump’s love letters from Kim Jong-un, or even some exchange concerning Jan. 6. What possible reason could there be for Trump to be holding documents detailing the plans for Iran’s missile program? It’s not as if he did the analysis, or even that these documents will help him site his next golf resort. This is information that only has value if Trump is giving it to those who will use it to weaken the U.S.
As a side note, Russia is now negotiating to purchase Iranian missiles for use in Ukraine. They probably didn’t need Trump to give them a shopping list, but there may well be information in the classified documents which would be of value to Vladimir Putin in sizing up his purchases.
Back on the home front, Judge Dearie was very clear in setting October 20 as the day to submit any last points concerning the documents that were separated out by the FBI’s “filter team” when initially running through the information taken from Mar-a-Lago. This only amounts to 15 documents, so it shouldn’t have been a Herculean task. Even so, Trump’s legal team told Dearie on Tuesday that they were going to ignore his deadlines and get back to him next week
Today, the judge let Trump's lawyer, Jim Trusty, know that This is Not How Things Work.
ORDER: The Special Master notes Plantiff’s counsel’s letter of October 20, 2022. To the extent Plaintiff asserts that the government’s letter of the same date “is not fully accurate as to the Plaintiff's position on various documents,” any submission to the contrary by the Plaintiff is now untimely pursuant to my Order of October 7, 2022. Plaintiff may submit his position no later than the close of business today, October 21, 2022.
In other words: You’re already late. I’ll let you turn in that homework today. But that doesn’t mean you’re not already late.
It’s not as if there was some doubt about the date all this was due. Trusty (and Trump) just decided they could ignore Dearie. After all, Judge Aileen Cannon has already reset the dates for them twice. What’s one more time?
So far, Trump has gotten away with astounding actions in every aspect of this affair. But he may soon discover just what happens when you take too much rope.
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