The Saudis Would Be A Good Guess
Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston is an expert on tax issues and Donald Trump and has written two books about the nexus of the two subjects, The Making of Donald Trump (2016) and It’s Even Worse Than You Think— What The Trump Administration Is Doing To America (2018). Earlier this month, writing for DCReport, he noted that Trump is a con artist and a know-nothing who, despite his boasting that he knows “everything” about nuclear energy, can’t tell you the difference between an atomic bomb and a hydrogen bomb. “What Trump does know,” wrote Johnston, “is this: Foreign governments whose dictatorial leaders he admires— North Korea, Russia and Saudi Arabia among them— would pay fortunes to acquire America’s most sensitive nuclear secrets. And what Donald knows is how to find buyers who will pay premium prices for whatever he has to unload. What had been the unthinkable idea that any American president would sell our national security secrets is suddenly front and center… No previous American president has been the subject of a criminal investigation, much less one that raises the question of disloyalty for profit.”
Ask yourself this: What legitimate reason could Donald Trump possibly have to take to Mar-a-Lago what’s known in spy world as SIGINT or signals intelligence? Our National Security Agency silently gathers SIGINT from telephone calls, emails and heavily encrypted electronic messaging. No private citizen has any business holding such records.
Foreign powers, especially those hostile to the United States, would pay vast sums, potentially billions of dollars, to access our SIGINT. They would look for details about our capacity to intercept such signals and hints to help them identify our spies and human assets in those countries so they could be captured, tortured and liquidated.
We don’t know for sure what, if anything, Trump sold, attempted to sell or left open for his Mar-a-Lago guests to peruse. That’s what trial after indictment is for, although public hearings by Congress would also be a brilliant idea.
But the question to ask now is this: What in hell was he doing with these materials? And why didn’t he turn them over when he was issued a subpoena for them months ago?
It’s hard to imagine any other reason Trump would take from the White House government documents so vital to our national security that authorized officials can examine them only in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility or SCIF (pronounced skiff). The same holds for even talking about them. These are documents that Trump has no intellectual capacity to understand and no conceivable legitimate reason to possess.
Trump believes that while in office he had the power to declassify any document. If he is brought to trial by our federal government, as I fully expect, he would almost certainly assert this as a defense. That would be a typical Trumpian effort to muddy the waters and sow doubt about criminal intent among jurors. The likely defense claim would be that he thought he acted appropriately and made an honest mistake.
But what Trump almost certainly doesn’t know is that the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 governs nuclear secrets. Under that law, a president cannot unilaterally declassify materials. Any declassification involves a complex process requiring approval by experts in nuclear weaponry and national security.
Should a federal grand jury indict Trump under that 1946 statute, his ignorance of the law would be no defense.
Clearly, Donald Trump had no right to take any national security documents. He is now just another private citizen. His possession of these secrets is a federal felony. Prosecution is necessary if he held such documents, especially if any evidence exists showing Trump tried to sell out America for profit.
This is true even though Trump claims he is above the law.
“When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total and that’s the way it has to be,” Trump said in 2020. He instantly rejected challenging questions from reporters who understand the limited and temporary power granted to presidents by Article II of our Constitution. He’s also wrongly asserted that our Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want.”
Keep in mind that at issue here are not mundane documents of no consequence but our most sensitive nuclear and intelligence secrets, which only a handful of closely vetted individuals are allowed to see. The FBI would never have conducted a raid over documents of little value. If these were mundane documents, Trump would be claiming that and showing the inventory of items taken, which FBI agents turned over as they departed Mar-a-Lago.
That 2019 congressional investigation, cited above, showed that Saudi Arabia was trying to buy our nuclear secrets. Astonishingly Trump wasn’t alarmed about this. Indeed, the report indicates that Trump viewed our relationship with that country entirely in financial terms, just as he does everything else.
At campaign rallies, Trump repeatedly praised the Saudis. He declared his love for them because they had put so much money in his pocket by buying apartments for tens of millions of dollars each and staying at his hotels and golf resorts.
The little-noticed 2019 congressional investigation began after multiple whistleblowers came forward to warn about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
Keep this in mind in the context of four facts:
Trump’s refusal to sanction the Saudi regime for murdering an American journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, in a Saudi consulate. Our government concluded the de facto dictator, Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, ordered his most trusted guards to kill.
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner developed a very close relationship with MBS, as the dictator is known, during the Trump era. They had hours-long, late-night telephone calls
The $2 billion that MBS gave Kushner to manage despite warnings by numerous Saudi financial advisers that Kushner lacked competency in money management and charged outrageously high fees.
Trump took the side of the Saudis and their friends in the United Arab Emirates against the government of Qatar, home to America’s most important military base in the Middle East, after the Qataris declined to extend a risky $800 million loan to Kushner.
That Donald Trump overrode the objections of national security experts and granted security clearances to his son-in-law Kushner and his daughter Ivanka, Kushner’s wife, assumes even greater importance in light of the events this week. They repeatedly revised the SF-86 forms that all candidates for security clearances must submit. A single omission or misstatement typically results in denying a security clearance. Trump approved his daughter and son-in-law despite many revisions and against the advice of security experts.
How these facts connect, if indeed they do, won’t be known for some time. But keeping these acts and connections in the forefront of your mind will help you understand what happens as this case progresses.
To be clear, we don’t know what the search warrant specified, a warrant that was calmly and professionally delivered on midmorning Monday by FBI agents wearing suits and in the presence of Trump lawyers. However, we know that this search was so vital to our national security that Attorney General Merrick Garland personally approved the search. A federal magistrate authorized the search after being presented with an affidavit showing probable cause that Donald Trump committed crimes against the United States.
The harsh reality is that what’s going on is worse than you think.
A couple of weeks went by and last night Rebecca Beitsch, writing for The Hill, reported how Trump’s criminal nature is coming into sharper focus in terms of the classified documents he stole. She wrote that the criminal orange slug’s “resistance to turning over what now appears to be a much larger tranche of documents than previously known could strengthen a potential case from the Justice Department against him and renews questions over whether the delay harmed national security.” Trump had around 1,000 pages of classified documents that he resisted handing back to the government. She explained how a letter from the National Archives shows not just what Trump stole but also “the resistance Trump’s team had to any members of the intelligence community reviewing the documents so they could begin to assess whether there was damage done to any national security partners or methods.”
“The volume of the documents and the length of the dispute, I think, makes the case stronger for the government that Donald Trump’s retention of these documents was willful,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. attorney, noting that the charges being weighed by the government require showing intent.
“When you have 300 of them, and you retain them for over a year after repeated requests, and they come down a few times, and you still have them— it seems that the case has become much stronger. And I think it becomes much more difficult for the Justice Department to simply say, ‘We’ve got documents back. We’re going to declare victory and go home,’” she added.
“And charging him is not an easy decision. But man, at some point, how do you decline to charge him when his conduct has been so egregious?”
The letter from the National Archives indicates that Trump’s legal team was aware as early as April that the FBI was eager to obtain the documents so that they could do a damage assessment to determine whether there was any fallout related to their mishandling.
“Access to the materials is not only necessary for purposes of our ongoing criminal investigation, but the Executive Branch must also conduct an assessment of the potential damage resulting from the apparent manner in which these materials were stored and transported and take any necessary remedial steps,” Debra Steidel Wall, acting archivist of the United States, wrote in relaying a message from the Justice Department’s National Security Division.
The exchange revealed that among the materials were those at “the highest levels of classification, including Special Access Program (SAP) materials.” That can include documents that may only be viewed by those with a need to know.
Ryan Goodman, co-director of the Reiss Center on Law and Security at New York University School of Law, said those details could also be of use if the Justice Department decides to proceed with charges under the Espionage Act, one of the statutes listed on the initial warrant to search Trump’s property.
“It very significantly adds to the espionage charge because one of the elements of proving that crime is that the individual has reason to know that it’s the type of material that could injure the United States if released. And the Department of Justice’s National Security Division is clearly informing Trump that it is the kind of material that could have exceptional damage to U.S. national security,” he said.
“It absolutely goes to his knowledge and willfulness.”
There are practical reasons the FBI and the broader intelligence community would want to review the documents.
“It isn’t just that we’re worried that something’s going to happen to these documents, but if they have been disclosed to people who shouldn’t have them, you need to do a damage assessment,” said McQuade, the former U.S. attorney.
“You do a damage assessment to find out have sources been compromised, if people’s lives could be in danger. If we’ve got a source in Russia who’s sharing information with the U.S. government, that person’s life could be in danger. So you have to assess who’s had access to this, and then you go and look on channels and find out has his information dried up,” she said.
…“Every single piece of evidence that shows that DOJ tried literally everything they could to get these records back short of the search warrant punctures another hole in the theory that they were just on a witch hunt. They went above and beyond to accommodate an unreasonable individual.”