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Marco Rubio downplays classified docs scandal as a ‘storage’ issue

If any Republican was to going to take the Mar-a-Lago scandal seriously, it'd be Marco Rubio. Alas, he can’t quite bring himself to put country over party.


Six years ago, Sen. Marco Rubio repeatedly warned Americans that Donald Trump was so “dangerous” that he couldn’t be trusted with highly sensitive national security secrets. As it turns out, the Florida Republican was right: Trump brought classified materials to his unsecure country club and refused to give them back, apparently putting our national security at risk.

In fact, if any Senate Republicans were willing to say and do the right thing in response to the Mar-a-Lago scandal, it should be Rubio. Not only was the Floridian right about Trump in 2016, but Rubio is also the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He, as much as any GOP lawmaker, knows full well just how incredibly serious the former president’s alleged misconduct is.

And yet, even now, in the midst of his re-election campaign, Rubio can’t quite bring himself to put country over party. HuffPost highlighted the senator’s latest head-shaking rhetoric.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio characterized former President Donald Trump taking top-secret documents from the White House when he left office as nothing more than a “storage” issue.

In an interview that aired over the weekend, Rubio told the NBC affiliate in Miami, “This is, really, at its core, a storage argument that they’re making.... I don’t think a fight over storage of documents is worthy of what they’ve done, which is [a] full-scale raid and then these constant leaks.”

The senator added that officials are “arguing there are documents there” at Mar-a-Lago, but they “don’t deny that he should have access to those documents.”

It’s difficult to say what’s more amazing: the fact that Rubio said all of this out loud, or the fact that he expects the public to believe him.

First, downplaying the scandal as a “storage” issue is unintentionally funny, but it’s not credible. Trump stands accused of taking classified documents, refusing to return them, and possibly even obstructing the retrieval process. The vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to pretend that this just isn’t that big a deal?

At a certain level, I suppose every theft is a “storage” issue. If robbers took your belongings, they might argue that they’ve simply decided to “store” your stuff somewhere new, but I have a hunch this wouldn’t prove persuasive in court.

Second, there was no “full-scale raid.” When Team Trump refused to cooperate, the FBI went to court, obtained a search warrant, and executed it in the least aggressive way possible: The bureau sent plain-clothed agents who coordinated in advance with the Secret Service.

Third, there haven’t been “constant leaks.” What we’ve actually seen is a series of court filings from the Justice Department made necessary by Team Trump’s highly dubious legal strategies.

Fourth, while Rubio argued that officials “don’t deny that he should have access to those documents,” the whole point of the scandal is that officials absolutely deny that Trump should have these sensitive secret materials at his country club.

Finally, take a moment to consider how deeply concerned Rubio was six years ago about someone else’s perceived mishandling of sensitive materials.

“The FBI concluded what many Americans have known for quite some time, which is that Hillary Clinton’s conduct as Secretary of State and her mishandling of classified information was disgraceful and unbecoming of someone who aspires to the presidency,” Rubio said in a 2016 written statement. “There is simply no excuse for Hillary Clinton’s decision to set up a home-cooked email system which left sensitive and classified national security information vulnerable to theft and exploitation by America’s enemies. Her actions were grossly negligent, damaged national security and put lives at risk."

The Florida Republican added, “Hillary Clinton’s actions have sent the worst message to the millions of hard-working federal employees who hold security clearances and are expected to go to great lengths to secure sensitive government information and abide by the rules. They don’t take their oaths lightly, and we shouldn’t expect any less of their leaders.”

To be sure, the allegations against Clinton and Trump are qualitatively different — Trump’s scandal is obviously far more serious — but the question for Rubio is whether he still believes the underlying principles he claimed to take seriously in 2016.

Update: After this report was first published, the GOP senator kept going, complaining to Politico that lawmakers weren't briefed ahead of the Mar-a-Lago search. That's also not much of a defense: Congress is never notified about open criminal investigations in which there's been no indictment.

Rubio also complained to Fox News that all of the information about the scandal has come from federal law enforcement, though that's not true: It was Trump himself who notified the public about the search, and we've learned about Trump World's arguments by way of its court filings.