Thursday Reads

Good Morning!!

As I was starting my day, I discovered that my internet was down. It finally came back, and I’ve been belatedly looking around at the latest news. Every day it gets crazier and crazier. Why did I ever think we could be rid of Trump if he lost the 2020 election? Fat chance. Will he ever go away? Maybe if he finally goes to prison or dies of old age. In the meantime, we’re stuck with a dangerous high profile lunatic who may have the ability to destroy not only our democracy, but also our national security.

How many of those top secret documents did Trump read or share with visitors to his office–where documents were stored in boxes and even in his desk?! What if he decides to reveal government secrets on Truth Social or in TV interviews? Some Democrats are worried he could do something that insane.

The Daily Beast: Dem Lawmakers Grow Concerned Trump May Spill State Secrets.

The damning photograph that the Department of Justice released Tuesday night, showing classified documents spread out across the carpeted floor at Mar-a-Lago, confirmed that former President Donald Trump had kept records related to intercepted communications—possibly involving secret spy satellites or surveillance aircraft.

And the sensitive nature of those secrets, coupled with Trump’s particularly unhinged behavior in recent days, has many Democratic lawmakers nervous.

In the photo released late Tuesday, some of the documents were labeled “TOP SECRET.” Others were just “SECRET.” But either way, the White House memos cautioned that they should severely limit access to details contained within. Some of the documents can be seen with the “NOFORN” marking, indicating that no foreign nationals should ever lay eyes on them.

All of the visible cover sheets warned that the contents were “HSC-P/SI/TK,” meant to signify that the secrets they held inside were strictly controlled, clandestinely captured, and involving possible aerial reconnaissance, respectively.

1200x-1Adding to the chaos, in the hours before and after that DOJ disclosure, Trump showed himself to be increasingly volatile, taking to his own social media app to share bizarre conspiracy theories about Hunter Biden’s laptop, Q-Anon cult material, and assert that the records he had are, in fact, no longer restricted.

“Thought they wanted them kept Secret? Lucky I Declassified!” Trump’s personal account posted Wednesday morning.

The implied threat is that he could, if he so desired, reveal them at any time….

“I would not leave it beyond him to do something as insane as that. When someone is cornered, they make very bad decisions, and Donald Trump is in a very bad situation right now. We don’t know what he will do,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) said in an interview with The Daily Beast.

Read remarks from several other Congresspeople at the link. Just a bit more:

The damage assessment currently underway by the office of Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines will take into account what could happen if these secrets were exposed. And the FBI has seized surveillance video footage from Mar-a-Lago that might show who handled those records without permission this past summer.

But Trump continues to rage-post online, which is why Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) warned that the threat is ongoing.

“Here’s what makes it truly scary: Trump is weirdly attached to all of this ‘Top Secret’ information, he constantly throws tantrums, and he has an insatiable desire for attention including on social media,” Huffman said. “Since he no longer has White House china to smash, his next tantrum might be blurting out sensitive national secrets on Truth Social, or calling his pal [Vladimir] Putin to divulge or even sell information. With anyone else these would seem like crazy scenarios, but not with Trump.”

From Andrew Feinberg at The Independent: ‘We’re gonna blind ourselves’: Ex-intel officials say Trump’s document hoarding could ruin years of work.

Former president Donald Trump’s hoarding of highly classified national defence information at the Palm Beach, Florida, home could bring about a level of damage to US intelligence operations not seen in decades, according to current and former intelligence community officials and experts who spoke to The Independent.

A Tuesday court filing from the Department of Justice laid out just how many documents containing America’s most sensitive secrets were recovered from the ex-president over the last nine months.

More than 100 “unique documents with classification markings” were seized from his Mar-a-Lago club during an 8 August search by FBI agents, including three stored in Mr Trump’s desk. Classification levels ranged from confidential — the lowest level of classification in the US system — to the highest, top secret.

The department also said “certain documents” found at Mr Trump’s property bore markings denoting them as containing “sensitive compartmented information”, a designation reserved for extremely closely held secrets often involving intelligence sources and methods or nuclear weapons. Those 100 joined another 38 documents which FBI agents recovered from Mr Trump’s counsel during a 3 June meeting at Mar-a-Lago, plus another 184 documents which National Archives and Records Administration officials brought back from Florida in a set of 15 boxes Mr Trump allowed them to retrieve in January.

What national security experts told The Independent:

The experts who spoke with The Independent have decades of combined experience dealing with the most sensitive information, ranging from battlefield intelligence meant to disrupt terrorism networks to human intelligence gathered from clandestine assets and the highly technical signals intelligence collected by the National Security Agency.

All of them expressed fears that Mr Trump’s retention of such closely held secrets in a notoriously insecure facility — and one that has long been known to be a target of foreign intelligence services — will lead the US government to undertake what will be a unilateral degradation of American intelligence capabilities, on the assumption that whatever programs described in the papers stored at Mar-a-Lago may already have been or will soon be compromised.

David Priess, a former CIA intelligence officer who delivered daily intelligence briefings to then-FBI Director Robert Mueller and other top officials during the George W Bush administration, told The Intependent in a phone interview that it’s possible that some programmes that may be compromised by Mr Trump’s retention of documents in such a public place could still be salvaged if the documents in question are not specific as to intelligence sources or methods….

“It’s likely that some of the information is going to lead to some at least some serious investigation and possibly some actual shutdowns of some collection,” he said.

Another former CIA analyst, who asked for anonymity because they now hold another sensitive position in the US government, said Mr Trump’s retention of documents pertaining to “HUMINT” — human intelligence that is often gathered with the aid of sources recruited in hostile countries over a period of years — could lead intelligence officials to pull the plug on long-running operations and possibly could force them to mount operations to extract operatives or assets to safety.

“There’s a good chance someone at Langley is now trying to figure out how to exfiltrate some very helpful folks from very unfriendly places,” they said.

Feinberg notes that this already happened in 2017, when Trump blabbed about a secret operation to Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, Trump’s incompetent lawyers are blabbing scary stuff. Alina Habba, who previously represented a parking garage company, thinks violating the espionage act is a “mundane” crime.

And she says that she has been in Trump’s office–where he was storing top secret documents in his desk and in boxes, and so have lots of other visitors.

Today at 1PM, Judge Aileen Cannon will hold a hearing on whether she should appoint a “special master” to examine the documents the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago. Tierney Sneed at CNN: What to watch for at Thursday’s hearing in Trump’s bid for a special master over documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.

After an explosive court brief and picture of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago earlier this week, the Justice Department will argue in court Thursday against a request by former President Donald Trump that a so-called special master be appointed in to review the evidence the FBI seized at his Florida resort last month.

US District Judge Aileen Cannon will be considering whether to bring in third party oversight of the Justice Department, in which an outside attorney would in theory identify and filter out evidence that should be withheld from investigators because it was privileged.

Arguing it is unnecessary, prosecutors in court filings Tuesday night provided new details about its investigation into whether classified government documents were illegally mishandled. Lawyers for the former president, who filed a lawsuit last week seeking the appointment, meanwhile argued in a Wednesday night court filing that the Justice Department could not be trusted, as Trump claimed the search itself was unjustified.

Cannon previously signaled an inclination toward granting Trump’s request, but that was before the Justice Department’s dramatic filing this week.

Sneed lists the following questions to watch for (Read details at the CNN link):

 — How sharply does DOJ go after Trump’s spin?

 — How are the dynamics on Trump team playing out?

 — Does the judge recalibrate her approach?

 — If the judge grants the special master review, what does it look like?

As you know, over the past two days, first the DOJ and then Trump lawyers turned in filings with their arguments about Trump’s request for a special master. The DOJ strongly opposed the request in a longer than usual argument (35 pages) on Tuesday; Trump’s team responded with their arguments in favor yesterday. Today journalists are reporting new insights into the two opposing filings. 

Two more relevant reads:

Barbara McQuade at The Daily Beast: Are Trump’s Passports the FBI’s Smoking Gun?

According to DOJ’s recent brief, classified documents in that office were “commingled” in a desk drawer with three passports. While the government did not disclose the name on the passports, Trump himself has complained that during the search, the FBI “stole” his three passports. It seems a safe bet that the passports DOJ recovered were Trump’s.

The significance of the passports is enormous. As DOJ explained in an understated footnote, “The location of the passports is relevant evidence in an investigation of unauthorized retention and mishandling of national defense information.”

In other words, the presence of the passports in the same drawer as the classified records tends to tie the unauthorized possession of these documents to Trump himself. A photo included with the filing shows the items that were recovered from his office. Among the classification markings on the documents are “Top Secret,” meaning that the disclosure of the material could cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.

A routine practice in drafting search warrants is to include a request to seize identity documents that can connect the subject of the investigation with the premises. That helps to make the evidentiary tie between the person and any contraband that might be found at the location. For example, if searching for illegal drugs in a house where multiple people come and go, agents will seek authority to seize identity documents like a driver’s license, photographs or other personal possessions located in the same room as the contraband. Finding both of these items together tends to connect the person to the contraband. Here, the presence of Trump’s passports alongside the classified documents supports an inference that he himself possessed the classified documents.

To the extent Trump may be inclined to pin all blame on his lawyer who signed a document in June attesting that all of the classified documents had been returned, the documents in his personal desk drawer are a problem for him. The former president would need to explain away the notion that he himself possessed these documents long after the government asked for their return, and despite personal assurances from Trump when Counterintelligence Section Chief Jay Bratt visited Mar-a-Lago in June to inspect the storage of documents. At the time, Trump told Bratt, “Whatever you need, just let us know.”

The former president’s continued retention of the documents, even after the repeated requests to return them, suggests a willful violation of the law.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

The Washington Post: Justice filing points to new legal trouble for Trump and lawyers, experts say.

Newly public details from the Justice Department’s criminal probe of documents taken to Mar-a-Lago suggest enormous legal peril for two of Donald Trump’s attorneys  and considerable uncertainty for Trump himself, intelligence and legal expertssaid.

There’s no way to predict whether the Justice Department will ultimately pursue charges against the former president or his associates. But in a court filing Tuesday night, government lawyers recounted numerous instances in which Trump’s lawyers allegedly misled government officials during the investigation, and in which Trump or his team appear to have haphazardly handled materials that contained national security secrets.

The evidence laid out in the filing, experts said, could build a legal case that Trump attorneys Evan Corcoran and Christina Bobb obstructed the government’s investigation, allegedly telling FBI agents and prosecutors that they had handed over all classified documents when in fact many remained in Trump’s possession.

Left unanswered were key questions that could determine Trump’s legal fate: Did he direct Corcoran and Bobb to mislead the government, either before or after the FBI raid of his Florida home and club?

And, if so, why did he want to keep reams of top-secret classified documents there?

“It’s bad,” said Peter Lapp, a former FBI agent who worked on espionage cases and is now a private consultant. “It’s all pretty damning.”

Read the rest at the WaPo.

I’ll end there. I’ll be hanging out on Twitter to watch for reports from Judge Cannon’s courtroom. I hope there will be a quick resolution. If she does favor a special master, I wonder if the DOJ will appeal? What do you think? What other stories are you following?