The Art of the Deal is a business advice book by Donald J. Trump, which offers a window into his thinking. He believes that assets in his possession are to be monetized. I surmise he pocketed classified and top-secret materials to sell them.
The notion that personal papers actually belong to the US Government and should be preserved in the National Archives is totally foreign to Trump, who disdains the rule of law. Trump is not unlike OJ Simpson who broke into a Las Vegas hotel room in 2007 to seize sports memorabilia he’d autographed. OJ went to jail, as may Trump.
Federal agents seized 11 sets of classified materials from Mar-a-Lago, according to a copy of the redacted search warrant released by the Attorney General. Letters with North Korea’s President Kim Jong Un were in the boxes seized by the FBI. Imagine what these love letters could fetch on the open market. MAGA members like Mr. Pillow have lots of money to purchase Trump trophies and ingratiate themselves with the former president.
Absconding with presidential correspondence not only shows bad judgment. It is illegal. Trump’s lawyers maintain that retaining these documents was merely an oversight.
Trump, however, faces legal jeopardy over several alleged offenses. Hiding top secret documents from federal investigators suggests a more nefarious purpose than nostalgia.
Trump and his advisers took criminal steps to impede the Justice Department’s investigation. His lawyers lied under oath, claiming that all sensitive material had been handed over to investigators. These actions qualify as obstruction.
Additionally, Trump may have violated the Espionage Act. This federal law bars the unauthorized retention of national security information that could benefit a foreign adversary or harm the United States. It also makes it a crime to destroy or hide a federal government document, or unlawfully remove government materials.
Some of the classified documents that Trump brought with him to Mar-a-Lago were marked "HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN, and SI," according to the FBI affidavit. They included various classified/TS/SCI documents, which is government shorthand for “top secret, sensitive compartmented information.”
Files were also marked HCS, which indicates that the material is about human sources, or spies, that often work with the CIA. Signals intelligence gathered by intercepts of communications was included in the boxes. So were nuclear secrets.
Russia and China want to uncover information about spies, as well as America’s nuclear arsenal. Should these documents fall into the hands of adversarial states, US personnel and methods would be exposed and at risk. US national security would be seriously compromised.
Trump is not a patriot; he’s a businessman more interested in his enrichment than national security. Investigators should explore whether Trump or his representatives discussed the treasure trove of materials with adversarial powers. Treason would further tarnish Trump’s legacy and put him in jail for years.
David L. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights at Columbia University. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the State Department during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations with Top Secret security clearances.