Yesterday, NY Times reporters Julian Barnes, Michael Bender and Maggie Haberman looked at why Trump stole and retained the intelligence documents found at Mar-a-Lago. He was, they reported most drawn to “topics that had clear narratives, personal elements or visual components.” They that he “showed the most interest in intelligence briefings when the topics revolved around his personal relationships with world leaders and the power available at his fingertips. He took little interest in secret weapons programs, but he often asked questions about the look of Navy ships and sometimes quizzed briefers on the size and power of America’s nuclear arsenal. He was fascinated by operations to take out high-value targets, like those that led to the deaths of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, and Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a top Iranian commander. But the details of broader national security policies bored him.”
“Trump,” they wrote, “devoured intelligence briefings about his foreign counparts before and after calls with them. He was eager to deepen his relationships with autocrats like Kim Jong-un of North Korea and Xi Jinping of China and to get leverage over allies he took a personal dislike to, such as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, President Emmanuel Macron of France and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada. Among the materials that the government retrieved from Mar-a-Lago was a document listed as containing information about Macron… ‘He is all about leverage’, said Sue Gordon, a former principal deputy director of national intelligence. ‘It is not my experience that he has an ideologically held view about anything. It’s all about what he can use as leverage in this moment.’ With many world leaders, Trump, whose own dalliances were the stuff of gossip columns for years, was fascinated by what the CIA had learned about his international counterparts’ supposed extramarital affairs— not because he was going to confront them with the information, former officials said, but rather because he found it titillating.”
Writing for the Financial Times today, Peter Spiegel tackled the same topic, but more comprehensively. He began by noting that “After more than a half decade of Trump scandals, those of us who follow the vicissitudes of the ex-president for a living have, I think, come to a general theory of what compels the man to transgress so spectacularly. There are no grand, well-planned conspiracies, despite what many once feared… Instead, there is mere industrial-scale venality. The man will seemingly do anything for sex (Stormy Daniels, Billy Bush); money (Deutsche Bank, Trump Foundation); or power (the Zelenskyy call, January 6). The Russia scandal, the Mueller report suggested, fell under the heading of “power”: Trump was willing to rely on the assistance of his own country’s foreign adversary if it helped him get elected. And then he tried to hide that eagerness from federal investigators. If his official and political sins are tied to his outsized human vices, though, how to explain the zealousness with which he clung on to hundreds of pages of the US’s most highly-classified secrets— including, it appears, the identities of clandestine foreign sources that were feeding intelligence to the CIA? Keeping hold of those documents doesn’t immediately suggest a way to make money, or regain power, or attract women.”
And we now know of the extreme lengths he went to keep these documents at Mar-a-Lago. According to a filing in a federal court in South Florida this week, he went so far as to have his lawyers lie to federal investigators so that he could keep his hands on their secrets. The lawyers swore under oath that Trump had returned all classified documents to archivists in Washington— even as minions were moving them out of a secure storage room on the resort’s premises. Some of the records turned up in a desk drawer in Trump’s personal office.
We are now awash in informed speculation as to why he clung on to the secrets so dearly. Perhaps it was the salacious nature of the information and his desire to share it with cronies. Rolling Stone reported this week that Trump frequently went around bragging that he had “intelligence” on the sex life of Emmanuel Macron, the French president. Could a box listed on an FBI inventory as “info re: President of France” be tied to those claims?
A respected national security blogger has suggested a more sinister reason for holding on to Macron-related intelligence. The FBI inventory indicates it was in the same box as documents related to Trump’s pardon of longtime friend and Republican hatchet man Roger Stone. Would that lend credence to theories that Stone was somehow in cahoots with the Kremlin over leaks of fake Macron financial statements in the midst of the French presidential election?
An even more sinister theory has been floated by the conspiracy-minded after the revelation, published this week in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, that a Ukrainian-born scammer lied her way into Mar-a-Lago posing as a Rothschild heiress, but is now in hiding in Russia. Could it be that Trump was, knowingly or unknowingly, feeding some of America’s top secrets to the Kremlin?
If the past is prologue, the more convoluted and sinister the theory, the less likely it is to be the true motivation behind the id-driven man-child.
…[A]t their absolute worst, Trump scandals are about venality. As bad as January 6 and the Ukrainian plots were, they centred on Trump’s utter disdain for legal or moral niceties when it comes to clinging on to power. So why the Mar-a-Lago antics? They just make no sense in the normal framework in which we have come to understand Trumpian dopamine receptors.
Perhaps the most convincing, but least consequential, explanation of Trump’s motives comes from Stephanie Grisham, the onetime White House press secretary who turned on her old boss after the January 6 outrages. Grisham told the Washington Post that Trump viewed stacks of important-looking papers as props that he felt symbolised his power as president. Shorn of actual political power, perhaps Trump just wanted highly-classified documents in his vicinity to pretend he was still cloaked in semi-official authority.
In the early ‘60s I was sitting on the stoop of my first girl-friend’s parent’s house on Avenue Z in Brooklyn. I was around 12 or 13 years old. An older man and a younger guy, both is suits and ties— not something you normally saw in the neighborhood— were walking towards their car. The words I heard on the stoop were all disparaging about Fred and Donald Trump. Words like “crooks,” “racists” and “assholes.” Presumably they were coming from their family offices on Avenue Z, where they directed the criminal enterprise that underlied what turned into a horribly failed and flawed presidency. Woody Guthrie, one of their Beach Haven tenants even wrote a song about it. Here’s an updated version by Ryan Harvey, Ani DiFranco and Tom Morello:
Anyway, I’m going to guess I’ve been watching the Donald as long as anyone. There’s no doubt in my mind that the venality Spiegel mentioned leads to one thing: self-enrichment. He stole the documents to sell them to the highest bidders; that simple. And I'm sure he's already off-loaded some of them. ("FBI agents who searched former President Donald Trump’s Florida home last month found empty folders marked with classified banners... The inventory shows that 43 empty folders with classified banners were taken from a box or container at the office, along with an additional 28 empty folders labeled as “Return to Staff Secretary” or military aide. Empty folders of that nature were also found in a storage closet.") That’s who Trump has always been and still is.