The investigation into Donald Trump and the classified documents he took from the White House appears to have rattled the former president quite a bit. That’s understandable: The Justice Department is examining whether the Republican committed a variety of felonies.
But the way in which Trump is dealing with the scandal reflects a politician who’s struggling to think of a defense.
To be sure, the former president’s difficulties are not altogether new. The New York Times reported over the weekend, for example, that late last year, Trump wanted his team to broker a deal with the National Archives: He’d give up the materials he wasn’t supposed to have, if officials in turn gave him documents that would help discredit the Russia scandal.
This was, of course, quite nutty — not only because the Russia scandal was, and is, entirely real, but also because the rule of law is not supposed to be transactional. No one, least of all a former American president, should ever effectively say, “I’ll follow the law, but only if....”
But nearly a year later, and in the wake of an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, the Republican’s concerns about the controversy are even more serious, and he’s increasingly focused on what he sees as the ultimate trump card: His predecessors did the same thing he did. As far as the former president is concerned, the everybody-does-it defense will be the one thing that gets him out of this mess.
This might even be a sensible strategy — if it were in any way true.
As we recently discussed, Trump’s first push was to draw a connection between his controversy and Hillary Clinton’s emails, though this didn’t work because the stories have so little in common. This led Trump to shift gears and argue that Barack Obama also took classified secrets and clashed with the National Archives. This proved to be utterly bonkers. Trump also took an interest in George W. Bush’s emails, but the story proved irrelevant.
Over the weekend, however, Trump — while reading a prepared text from a teleprompter — looked back a little further. The Washington Post quoted the Republican saying:
“George H.W. Bush took millions and millions of documents to a former bowling alley pieced together with what was then an old and broken Chinese restaurant. They put them together. And it had a broken front door and broken windows. Other than that, it was quite secure. There was no security.”
The point of the anecdote, of course, was to make it sound as if a different former president also took sensitive materials to an unsecured location, just as Trump did. If Bush wasn’t investigated or punished, then Trump shouldn’t be, either.
In reality, the anecdote is completely wrong and includes details Trump appears to have made up out of whole cloth. What actually happened was quite benign: After H.W. Bush exited public service, officials from the National Archives sorted his records in a venue that had been a Chinese restaurant.
An Associated Press report added at the time, “Uniformed guards patrol the premises. There are closed-circuit television monitors and sophisticated electronic detectors along walls and doors. Some printed material is classified and will remain so for years; it is open only to those with top-secret clearances.”
The idea that there was “no security,” and the place had “a broken front door and broken windows” is ridiculous. Similarly, it wasn’t even Bush who took the materials to the location.
How is this similar to Trump allegedly taking classified records, storing them at a glorified country club, and refusing to give them back? It’s not similar at all.
On the contrary, it’s a desperate talking point from a flailing politician who apparently can’t think of any legitimate defenses for his own apparent misconduct.
The Post’s analysis added that all of this suggests, “more than two months after the search, that Trump is still just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what will stick with his base of supporters.” Those sticking their necks out to defend the former president in this scandal should probably take note.