The Justice Department’s court filing in the Mar-a-Lago case on Tuesday night was devastating. Officials explained in brutal detail that it not only found highly classified materials at Donald Trump’s glorified country club, it also argued that it gathered evidence “that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” with government records “likely concealed and removed” before the FBI’s search.
But it was a single photograph included in the court filing that proved tough to forget. At issue was an FBI photo showing documents and “classified cover sheets recovered from a container” in the former president’s office. The image featured documents marked “secret,” “top secret” and “SCI” — a designation for highly classified “sensitive compartmented information.”
It wasn’t surprising that Trump would feel the need to respond to the fact that the public could see the picture. What was surprising was his actual response.
The day after the Justice Department filing, the Republican, by way of his Twitter-like platform, wrote, “There seems to be confusion as to the ‘picture’ where documents were sloppily thrown on the floor and then released photographically for the world to see, as if that’s what the FBI found when they broke into my home. Wrong! They took them out of cartons and spread them around on the carpet, making it look like a big ‘find’ for them. They dropped them, not me.”
Yesterday, as HuffPost noted, he went further down the same road.
As you might expect, Donald Trump is not happy that the FBI photographed all those classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, but the reason he’s angry seems a little bizarre ― even for him. No, he wasn’t angry he might face charges related to failing to return the documents. What really pissed him off ― he claims ― is that the FBI wanted to make him look “like a slob.”
The former president spoke to a conservative outlet called Real America’s Voice and emphasized that he’s “a very neat person,” who’s bothered that FBI agents “took documents and they put them all over the floor.”
Trump added, “A lot of people think that when you walk into my office, I have confidential documents or whatever it may be ― all declassified ― but I have confidential documents spread out all over my floor, like a slob, like I’m sitting there reading these documents all day long or somebody else would be.”
For the record, he didn’t appear to be kidding.
First, the idea that the materials were “all declassified” continues to be a claim so ridiculous that Trump’s own lawyers are afraid to raise it in court.
Second, as The New York Times reported, the way in which the FBI agents laid out the materials for the photograph was “in keeping with standard protocols for how federal agents handle evidence they come across in a search.”
Third, Trump has apparently moved on from the “planted evidence” talking point, choosing instead to seemingly confirm that these materials really were in his possession. In the process, he appears to have now contradicted — in writing and on the air — claims from his own lawyers about having previously returned all of the classified materials he’d previously taken.
Fourth, the clarification was wholly unnecessary: The Justice Department’s court filing doesn’t claim that the materials were found on the floor. Rather, it says the documents were “recovered from a container” in Trump’s office.
And finally, it doesn’t matter how they ended up on the floor. Trump has spent much of the week wildly missing the point of the entire scandal.
The question has nothing to do with who made a mess. The Espionage Act doesn’t include any provisions related to who may or may not look “like a slob.”
Imagine the police execute a search warrant at a suspected jewel thief’s place and officers find missing loot. Then imagine the thief responds, “Everyone can rest assured that I didn’t leave the jewels on the floor.”
That’s nice, I suppose, but it’s not altogether relevant to the subject at hand.