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Why Trump has taken a sudden interest in George W. Bush’s emails

Why would Donald Trump take an interest in a 2008 controversy about missing emails? Because he can't find a real defense for his Mar-a-Lago scandal.


By way of his Twitter-like social media platform, Donald Trump late yesterday directed his followers to a relatively obscure article. Specifically, the former president apparently wanted the public to read this article, published by Newsweek exactly six years ago this week:

For 18 months, Republican strategists, political pundits, reporters and Americans who follow them have been pursuing Hillary Clinton’s personal email habits, and no evidence of a crime has been found. But now they at least have the skills and interest to focus on a much larger and deeper email conspiracy, one involving war, lies, a private server run by the Republican Party and contempt of Congress citations — all of it still unsolved and unpunished.

The Newsweek piece went on to shine a light on a widely underappreciated controversy: In George W. Bush’s White House, millions of emails were conveniently “lost.” The result, as congressional Democrats explained in 2008, was an “enormous gap in the historical record“ during a critical period.

Indeed, the Newsweek piece added in 2016, “This correspondence included millions of emails written during the darkest period in America’s recent history, when the Bush administration was ginning up support for what turned out to be a disastrous war in Iraq with false claims that the country possessed weapons of mass destruction, and, later, when it was firing U.S. attorneys for political reasons.”

This was, to be sure, a legitimate controversy. It didn’t generate a lot of media coverage — by 2008, much of the political world was focused on the presidential primaries and tired of Bush scandals — though longtime readers might recall that I was preoccupied with the story when it broke in earnest 14 years ago.

But the point now is not that Bush was plagued by serious controversies. Rather, the point is why Trump referred his followers to a six-year-old Newsweek article for no obvious reason.

Indeed, the article — which I have a hunch Trump didn’t read before promoting — noted in its first sentence that there’s simply no evidence of criminal wrongdoing from Hillary Clinton. The last time I checked, that’s not exactly the message Team Trump wants the public to see.

So why promote it? Because the former president is still searching in vain for a coherent defense of his Mar-a-Lago scandal.

Trump’s first push, of course, 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.

Apparently short on options, Trump tried again last night, directing people to the fact that millions of important emails went missing in the Bush White House. While that’s true, Bush wasn’t accused of taking classified materials, storing them in a glorified country club, refusing to give them back, and allegedly obstructing the retrieval process.

Trump, on the other hand, has been accused of doing exactly that. Suggesting that Team Bush’s email controversy is somehow similar is a difficult idea to take seriously.

Ultimately, what we’ve seen in recent weeks from Trump is not a suggestion that he’s innocent or that the allegations are unfounded. Rather, the Republican appears increasingly fond of the proverbial “everybody does it” defense.

The trouble is, everybody hasn’t done what Trump is accused of doing, and the more he tries to find evidence to the contrary, the more he reminds us of just how unique his alleged misconduct really was.