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By GOP standards, the classified docs scandal is now a ‘problem’

There’s an opportunity to re-evaluate the Mar-a-Lago story — not by my standards, or the Justice Department’s standards, but by GOP lawmakers' own words.


The Washington Post’s report on the FBI finding nuclear secrets at Mar-a-Lago was obviously stunning — and the article used a specific phrase that warrants a closer look.

According to the reporting, which has not been independently verified by MSNBC or NBC News, some of the documents seized at Donald Trump’s glorified country club were so highly sensitive that they fell under the category of “special-access programs.”

The Post, which cited people familiar with the matter in its reporting, added: “Documents about such highly classified operations require special clearances on a need-to-know basis, not just top-secret clearance. Some special-access programs can have as few as a couple dozen government personnel authorized to know of an operation’s existence.”

On the show last night, Alex spoke to John Brennan, the former director of the CIA, who acknowledged that the documents in question are “part of special-access programs, SAPs.” He added, “These are documents that are the most highly sensitive and highly restrictive within the U.S. government.”

Obviously, the fact that Trump took such materials and refused to give them back is extraordinary, and may yet prove to be criminal. But the mention of special-access programs reminds me of something we last discussed a couple of weeks ago: a quote from a House Republican that’s worth revisiting.

In the immediate aftermath of the FBI executing a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Republicans reflexively defended the former president and condemned federal law enforcement, though in a rather literal sense, GOP officials had no idea what they were talking about. The party didn’t know what the former president took or why. Republicans defended Trump because that’s what was expected of them.

But a handful of GOP officials were quietly open to the possibility that Trump had gone too far. Politico ran this report four weeks ago:

In an interview, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah), an Intelligence Committee member, said it was important for the panel to glean additional information and acknowledged that mishandling of sensitive classified information would be a serious violation. “I mean, if he had actual Special Access Programs — do you know how extraordinarily sensitive that is? That’s very, very sensitive. If that were actually at his residence, that would be a problem,” Stewart said. “But we just don’t know that. So let’s find out.”

Well, we’ve found out. After the Utah congressman made those comments on the record, effectively setting a standard for the controversy, the National Archives has confirmed that Trump took special-access program materials. The Justice Department has also confirmed that Trump took special-access program materials. There’s all kinds of reporting that Trump took special-access program materials.

If that were actually at his residence, that would be a problem.”

For the past month, most of the Republican Party has tried to treat the Mar-a-Lago controversy as a partisan affair, but there’s an opportunity here to re-evaluate the story — not by my standards, or the Justice Department’s standards, or Democrats’ standards, but rather by the GOP’s own standards.

A conservative, red-state Republican on the House Intelligence Committee drew a line. We now know the former president crossed that line. So as we recently discussed, the result is an unavoidable question: Is there now a bipartisan consensus that Trump’s scandal has merit?

Politico’s report from four weeks ago also quoted Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, saying, “When you get to compartmentalized classified spaces, it gets more serious.”

But again, there’s no longer any doubt that Trump brought such classified information to his country club. That question has been definitively answered.

All of which makes the quotes from Stewart and McCaul that much more significant: If we’re evaluating the controversy by the standards espoused by conservative congressional Republicans, what the former president is alleged to have done is both “serious” and “a problem.”

Are GOP leaders prepared to honor their own party’s benchmarks?