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How Trump Managed to Mix Grievance Politics with Plausible Deniability

Somehow, Trump’s dalliance with secret documents has left Democrats confused and bewildered.

4 min readAug 14, 2022


Former president Donald Trump had no business taking secret documents from work to his home in Florida. He thought he could just issue a “standing order” to declassify everything that he took home with him, like that would be OK. It wasn’t. So he must have known it would bring trouble just by taking them. I think he did and that he was planning to use that trouble as political leverage.

The most interesting part of this story is that even if the documents were not classified and they were, Trump has no legal defense other than to rely upon the counsel of his attorneys. Here is what a former federal prosecutor had to say about Trump’s handling of the matter, from Politico, “Espionage Isn’t the Strongest Case Against Trump. It’s Simpler Than That.”, 8/14/22:

Trump’s defense appears to be that he “had a standing order” declassifying every document he brought to his residence. While I suspect Trump could find aides willing to testify that this is true, I doubt he disclosed this to the government during their months of negotiations and it is unlikely a jury would find this story convincing. Even if they did, none of the criminal statutes cited by the DOJ in the search warrant require that the documents were classified. While DOJ typically brings those charges only where the material was classified, the underlying materials here are highly classified, including Top Secret and Sensitive Compartmented Information, highly sensitive information that can only be viewed in secure government facilities. [emphasis mine]

Trump was told repeatedly not to take the documents. Even after being told not to take the documents anywhere he still took them somewhere other than where they belonged, in the custody of the government. Trump not only took documents he was told not to take, but he concealed his activity from the government whenever he could.

Here’s the part I don’t get. Trump knows how to keep a secret. He’s had affairs. He’s hidden some of his business practices. He knows the law well enough to flout it. That suggests to me that he was planning to use this…