'The worse it gets': Conservatives lay out the national security implications of Mar-a-Lago search
After FBI agents executed a search warrant at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida on Monday, August 8, media reports from the Washington Post and others shed some light on what the agents were looking for. The Post reported that the agents were searching for classified government documents that should have remained in Washington D.C., including “documents relating to nuclear weapons” — and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that he authorized the agents to obtain a search warrant.
In an August 15 column, Never Trump conservative and Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin stresses that “the more facts we know” about the reasons for the Mar-a-Lago search, “the worse it gets.” And attorney Philip Rotner, in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on August 16, lambasts the Trump apologists who are resorting to “whataboutism” in his defense.
“Whataboutism” is when someone tries to downplay wrongdoing by bringing up someone else’s mistakes. For example, a pundit at Fox News or Fox Business might respond to the Mar-a-Lago search by saying: But, what about Hillary Clinton’s e-mails? And what about Hunter Biden? That “whataboutist” argument is common at those right-wing cable news channels.
Rotner notes that Harvard University law professor Alan Dershowitz brought up the Clinton e-mail scandal of 2016 in an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal on August 14. Dershowitz’s op-ed is headlined, “‘But Her Emails’? A Defense of ‘Whataboutism’,” and Rotner argues that Dershowitz’s thinking is flawed when he makes a Trump/Clinton comparison.
“To the extent that the Trump investigation revolves around ‘mishandling’ classified material,” Rotner writes, “the two investigations should indeed be handled with a similar seriousness. That, however, spells trouble for Trump, not exoneration.”
Rotner goes on to explain why Dershowitz is mixing apples and oranges.
“Clinton was subjected to a massive, far-reaching criminal investigation by the FBI and the Department of Justice,” Rotner notes. “Much of the Clinton investigation took place on the public stage, and even though the FBI declined to recommend that criminal charges be brought against her, she was excoriated in a public FBI report that likely cost her the presidency in 2016…. Trump, unlike Clinton, is not merely accused of ‘mishandling’ classified information — although he certainly did that — he is suspected of stealing it and, when caught, refusing to return it to the government.”
Rotner continues, “More specifically, Trump is suspected of removing storage boxes filled with government property — including classified, top secret/sensitive compartmented information — from the White House, storing it in his unsecured Mar-a-Lago residence, lying to the government about having returned all documents marked as classified, and refusing for months to return the stolen material despite both informal requests and formal subpoenas. Whatever you may think about Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server to conduct government business, there was never a hint that she withheld or refused to turn over her servers when they were requested by the government. To the contrary, the issue with Clinton was whether classified information had been ‘improperly stored or transmitted’ on Clinton’s personal system, not whether she had withheld anything from the investigators.”
According to attorney Rotner, “Trump’s harboring the stolen documents and refusing to return them to the government despite months of attempts to recover them, through both voluntary requests and subpoenas — and especially Trump’s reported lying about them — makes Professor Dershowitz’s blather about ‘what appears to be unequal application of rules and principles’ and ‘treating like cases alike’ laughable.”
Comparing the Clinton e-mail scandal with the alleged presence of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Rotner writes, is “the worst kind of ‘whataboutism’” on Dershowitz’s part.
Rubin, meanwhile, stresses that the more reporting there is on the Mar-a-Lago search, the more troubling it becomes from a “national security” standpoint.
“A defeated former president who was at the center of a failed coup allegedly walks out the door with nuclear secrets, refuses to give them back and then leaves a creepy, semi-threatening message for the attorney general — that’s apparently where we are,” Rubin laments. “Donald Trump and his apologists are as dangerous to our national security as spies and traitors who would spirit away our most closely held secrets. The documents at issue supposedly include material so confidential it merits a top-secret rating (TS/SCI) that no president — let alone an ex-president — can wish away…. The more facts we know, the worse it gets.”
Rubin interviewed legal/national security expert Ryan Goodman for her column, and Goodman discussed the Espionage Age implications of the Mar-a-Lago search and federal investigation.
Goodman told Rubin, “Even if Trump waved the presidential wand and made a top-secret document unclassified, it would not alter one iota the intelligence community’s determination that the information, if released, could be ‘expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security.’ That kind of material goes to the very heart of what the Espionage Act is designed to protect.”
Rubin also interviewed former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti, who told her, “Because DOJ bent over backward to accommodate Trump and asked him repeatedly for the documents, they can establish that he knew he was breaking the law and that he was trying to conceal classified material from investigators.”
Rubin ends her column on a scathing note, lambasting Trump’s GOP defenders for caring more about Trump than they care about the United States’ national security.
“If the reported facts are true,” Rubin writes, “Trump knowingly took the country’s most sensitive secrets, refused to give them back and, through his lawyer, falsely attested he had no such documents…. No senior civilian official, let alone the president, has ever engaged in such appalling conduct. And the GOP not only defends him, but smears and endangers the FBI through deliberate disinformation. No national party has ever done that, either. Whatever criminal indictments follow, all but MAGA cultists should acknowledge that neither Trump nor his party is fit to hold office.”
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