Lazy Caturday Reads: Empty Folders Marked Classified, WTF?!

1920 Théophile Alexandre Steinlen Cat and Her Kitten charcoal and pastel on paper 46 x 61 cm

Cat and kitten, by Théophile Alexandre Steinlen, 1920

Happy Caturday!!

Yesterday we got new information about the highly classified documents Trump stole from the government and carelessly left lying around his office at Mar-a-Lago. In her Friday post, Dakinikat wrote about the empty folders marked classified and the boxes containing classified documents mixed with news clippings, and personal items like clothing. The inventory from the search also shows thousands of unclassified government documents, which also belong in the National Archives.

From The Los Angeles Times: Trump search inventory shows empty folders marked ‘classified,’ mixed top-secret and unclassified items.

Twenty-seven documents with classified and top-secret markings were recovered from former President Trump’s office at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, according to a detailed inventory of what the FBI removed during its court-approved search of the home last month.

The eight-page inventory detailing more than 10,000 government documents removed in the search includes the location where each item was found and whether it was classified, but not the subject matter. In many cases, highly classified materials are listed as having been stored in the same boxes as hundreds of unclassified items, including newspaper and magazine clippings and clothing.

Among the boxes were 48 empty folders marked with a classified banner. Those empty folders could be of particular concern as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence assesses the risks to national security that could result from disclosure of the contents, because it could be difficult to determine what information might have been inside and where it is now….

FBI agents removed more than 100 documents containing classified information — including some marked top secret and meant to be available only in special government facilities — from the Trump estate during their Aug. 8 search, along with over 30 boxes of materials including thousands of government records.

What was in those empty folders?

Identifying what was in the empty folders marked classified and where the information is now should be a priority, said Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“Why are there folders that contained classified information that are now empty? Where are the documents?” Maloney said. “Those questions need to be answered.”

1899 Paul Gauguin Still LIfe with Flowers and Cats oil on canvas

Still LIfe with Flowers and cats, Paul Gauguin, 1899

Without knowing more about the folders, it is difficult to say how alarmed intelligence officials might be, Maloney said.

They could be the type of generic folders in which confidential information is transported within the White House, or they could be folders from intelligence agencies that provide details about the sources of the information, the date it was collected and broad descriptions of what it is about, said Larry Pfeiffer, a high-ranking CIA officer in the George W. Bush administration and senior director of the White House Situation Room in the Obama administration.

“If there were any meticulous records that were kept by the staff secretary, executive secretary or the [director of national intelligence’s] presidential daily briefing staff, they may be able forensically to figure out if there are any missing documents,” Pfeiffer said.

That 48 classified documents could be missing is the “worst-case scenario,” he said.

“That’s terrifying, because then what happened to them? Where are they? Are they still hidden somewhere? Are they hidden in another Trump location? Did he give them away to some people as souvenirs? God knows,” Pfeiffer said.

Raw Story reported on what experts are saying about the empty folders: ‘Unfathomably dangerous’: Former federal prosecutor on Trump’s empty folders warns ‘things just went from bad to worse’

Immediately after a federal judge released the Dept. of Justice’s detailed list of items the FBI seized from Mar-a-Lago experts agreed among the most concerning details was that there were a large number of empty folders marked “Classified.”

Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor of 30 years, tweeted out his surprise and concern.

“OMG!” exclaimed Kirschner, who is also an MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst. “Court just released an inventory of evidence of crime seized at Mar-a-Lago.”

“Dozens of EMPTY folders labeled ‘Classified’ or ‘Return to Military Aide.’ Trump didn’t pack up EMPTY folders to take with him to FLA. Things just went from bad to worse to unfathomably dangerous.” [….]

Andrew Weissmann, a former General Counsel of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who has also worked as chief of the criminal fraud section of DOJ observed: “It’s the empty classified folders that are of most concern.”

“Where are the contents? Trump has not addressed that at all in all his bluster and obfuscation. What were you doing with these?” asked Weissmann, who also worked for Special Counsel Robert Mueller….

National security attorney Brad Moss wrote, “Very first question the FBI would ask the person who had in their home office 43 empty folders with classified banners is ‘where did the documents from those folders go????'”

And later he added: “Why. Are. There. Empty. Folders?”

Young Girl with a Cat 1892, Berthe Morissot

Young Girl with a Cat 1892, Berthe Morissot

Analysis from Aaron Blake at The Washington Post: What we know about Trump and the empty folders.

We know very little about what this [the empty folders] means right now, though, and experts say it doesn’t necessarily mean the documents are missing, as some Trump critics theorized. What it does seem to reinforce is how sloppily classified information was handled.

In both the search warrant affidavit released last week and a Justice Department filing in a court case this week, the government has pointed to a February referral from the National Archives. The referral raised concerns about Trump’s potential mishandling of sensitive documents and urged an investigation.

“Of most significant concern was that highly classified records were unfoldered, intermixed with other records, and otherwise unproperly [sic] identified,” the National Archives said.

The biggest question is obviously: Why were those folders empty? Since classified documents were previously returned “unfoldered” — and others were recovered in the search last month — and now we have classified-marked folders without documents in them, it’s possible they match up.

Whether they actually do match is another matter, as is whether the documents can even be traced to a given folder.

From a national security expert:

David Priess, a former CIA officer whose work there included delivering the President’s Daily Brief, said Friday that the presence of empty folders doesn’t mean documents are missing, but also that it’s possible we won’t know for sure. He said the folders could contain markings allowing them to be traced to specific documents (but that’s not certain), or that they could be connected using forensic techniques.

“We cannot rule out that those empty folders contained classified documents that were not discovered in the search and seizure,” he said. “We just don’t know. That’s much harder to determine.”

He also noted it was possible that the folders were separated from the documents when they were still in the White House, before they were taken to Mar-a-Lago.

But mostly, he said, it’s further evidence of something we already knew: The documents were haphazardly stored.

There’s more analysis at the WaPo link.

Carl Kahler Family Portrait

Family Portrait, Carl Kahler

It’s not just the documents that were found in Trump’s office that were mishandled. The Washington Post published a long read yesterday on the storage room where boxes of documents were stored and why Mar-a-Lago was such a dangerous place for government documents to be kept: Deep inside busy Mar-a-Lago, a storage room where secrets were stashed. The storage room is below the estate’s giant living room.

It was dug into the foundations of the early 20th-century building not long after Trump bought the place, a former employee said, carved out to create more space to store tables, chairs, umbrellas — the stuff necessary to complete Trump’s conversion of what had once been a grand residence for a single family into a private club for 500 members.

At the southeast corner of this area, behind a simple door, is a large closet-type space that workers once called “the mold room” in honor of leftover stonework molds deposited in the corner, the former employee said. Today, staffers think of the room more like the former president’s personal closet, one said. It is here, in this windowless nook, where some of the nation’s most sensitive secrets allegedly were stashed….

Court filings say a top Justice Department official and a gaggle of FBI agents were allowed to tour the storage room when they visited Mar-a-Lago on June 3 to pick up classified documents collected by Trump’s lawyers in response to a grand jury subpoena. A lawyer for Trump saidthe room was where they would find all of documents that had been carted from the White House to Florida after Trump left office.

Two months later, agents returned with a court-approved search warrant and carted off more than two dozen boxes of documents and assorted other items gathered from the storage room and the former president’s office. The raid exposed anew the potential risks of keeping highly sensitive material at a club that hosts weddings, galas and other large events, where outsiders are common and many employees — as well as some visitors — are foreign nationals.

Not yet clear is why Trump chose the basement storage room to keep highly sensitive documents nor who exactly had access to the documents kept there — or who could have gotten access had they tried….

People close to Trump said a variety of Mar-a-Lago and Trump staffers had access to that area beneath the public living room. Access to the closet where the documents were kept was more restricted, they said.

1890-99c John White Alexander The Green Dress oil on canvas 99.1 x 53.3 cm Private Collection

John White Alexander, The Green Dress, 1890-99

More on security concerns at Mar-a-Lago:

Experts said security at the Spanish-style club has long been a headache. The facility has served a frequent residence for Trump and his family during the winter months, including while he was president. But it also boasts tennis courts, a dining room, two pools, a spa and beachfront facilities, all open to its members and their guests. Its giant ballroom and other larger areas are frequently booked for large parties and political and charitable fundraisers, all open to even more visitors, some of them foreign nationals.

Since Trump left office, Republican candidates also have flocked to the club for official events, to genuflect to Trump and attempt to secure his endorsement. Political donors have flocked, too. People who have visited the club since Trump left office said they were allowed in without so much as an identification check.

“I think Mar-a-Lago is a counterintelligence nightmare,” said Joel Brenner, former head of U.S. counterintelligence under the director of National Intelligence and former inspector general for the National Security Agency, citing the flow of hundreds of people, the presence of foreign nationals and Trump’s long-established carelessness with national secrets.

A person who is familiar with the club’s workings and spoke on the condition of anonymity described regular movement from club facilities to the basement and back. “This is an operating property,” this person said. “There’s a kitchen and a guy who does pastries and a liquor cabinet. There’s a restaurant here. You see activity. A guy getting vodka to bring to the bar. A person going to get cupcakes to bring upstairs.”

As I said, this is a very long, but interesting article.

Two more developments on the purloined documents story:

Bill Barr spoke out on the stolen documents investigation. The New York Times: Barr Dismisses Trump’s Request for a Special Master.

Former Attorney General William P. Barr dismissed former President Donald J. Trump’s call for an independent review of materials seized from his Florida home on Friday — and said an inventory of items recovered in the search last month seemed to support the Justice Department’s claim that it was needed to safeguard national security.

“As more information comes out, the actions of the department look more understandable,” Mr. Barr told The New York Times in a phone interview, speaking of the decision by the current attorney general, Merrick B. Garland, to seek a search warrant of the complex at Mar-a-Lago.

“It seems to me they were driven by concern about highly sensitive information being strewn all over a country club, and it was taking them almost two years to get it back,” said Mr. Barr, who resigned in December 2020, as Mr. Trump pushed him to support false claims that the election had been stolen.

“It appears that there’s been a lot of jerking around of the government,” he added. “I’m not sure the department could have gotten it back without taking action.”

Asked what he thought of the argument for the appointment of a special master, an independent arbiter to review the material that could delay the investigation, Mr. Barr laughed.

1909 Pierre Bonnard Children and a Cat oil on canvas 54.6 x 69.5 cm The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC

Pierre Bonnard, Children and a Cat, 1909

“I think it’s a crock of shit,” he said, adding, “I don’t think a special master is called for.” [….]

Mr. Barr’s comments, which echo the assessment of many Democrats and a few Republicans, including the former Bush adviser Karl Rove, came as Mr. Trump’s supporters tried to downplay the importance of the inventory unsealed by a federal judge in Florida.

The eight-page document, which was made public with the tacit assent of the former president’s lawyers, revealed that the F.B.I. recovered 11,179 documents or photographs without classification markings belonging to the government, and more than 100 others marked top secret, secret or confidential.

“It’s hard to wrap your head around him taking so much sensitive materials,” Mr. Barr said. “I was, let’s just say, surprised.”

Mark Meadows coughed up some records in the wake of the events at Mar-a-Lago. CNN: After Mar-a-Lago search, Meadows turns over more texts and emails to Archives.

Within a week of the FBI search of former President Donald Trump‘s Mar-a-Lago resort, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows handed over texts and emails to the National Archives that he had not previously turned over from his time in the administration, sources familiar with the matter tell CNN.

Meadows’ submission to the Archives was part of a request for all electronic communications covered under the Presidential Records Act. The Archives had become aware earlier this year it did not have everything from Meadows after seeing what he had turned over to the House select committee investigating January 6, 2021. Details of Meadows’ submissions to the Archives and the engagement between the two sides have not been previously reported….

The records Meadows turned over to the Archives were not classified, and the situation is markedly different from the Archives’ efforts to retrieve federal records from Trump and its referral to the Justice Department earlier this year when classified materials were discovered among documents the agency retrieved from Mar-a-Lago.

The source familiar with the discussions said that the Archives considered Meadows to be cooperating, even though the process started slowly.

“This is how it’s supposed to work,” the source added, saying it was not the kind of situation that needed to be referred to the Justice Department.

As you can see, I’m still totally obsessed with the stolen documents story. There are actually other things happening, and I’ll post some more items in the comment thread. I hope you’ll do the same.


Tuesday Reads

Sunshine,, by Mary Gibbs

Sunshine, by Mary Gibbs

Good Morning!!

Many of you know that I was born in North Dakota and have a long family history there as well as in Minnesota. We moved away when I was a child; but both sets of grandparents were still there, so we often went back to visit. I’m the eldest child in my family, and my other siblings don’t remember much, if anything, about North Dakota, or even about our paternal grandparents. My mother’s parents eventually moved to Indiana.

I’ve heard stories about North Dakota from my parents all my life and I guess for that reason, I still have an emotional attachment to the place. I took two trips up there with my parents, and we found the places my parents were born and grew up–my Dad in Fargo and my Mom in Hope and Lisbon. we also visited the North Dakota State campus in Fargo, where my parents met in a political science class, and Grand Forks, where my Dad got his masters degree at the University of North Dakota. We also explored the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and visited several historical sites. 

It might sound strange, but when we were there, I had a real sense of belonging, a feeling that “This is where I came from.” Now my Dad is gone and my Mom has lost most of her memories–at least she can’t talk about them anymore. My Mom used to tell me that I was the only one who could carry on those memories for them.

Do I sound nuts? I don’t know. What triggered this reverie was an article in Smithsonian Magazine: See the Incredible Sunflower Superbloom in North Dakota.

North Dakota is one of the nation’s top sunflower-producing states, using the cheery yellow flowers for everything from bird seed mixes to cooking oils.

But before North Dakota’s many hardworking farmers start to harvest this tasty crop, the state comes alive with the golden hue of thousands upon thousands of sunflowers, all blooming together at the same time.

Known as a “superbloom,” the jaw-dropping phenomenon occurs every year toward the end of summer. Spring planting was delayed this year in North Dakota and other northern states because of cold, wet weather—but that also means that sunflowers in some parts of the state are still blooming.

Right now, many of the state’s sunflower fields are in peak bloom, with nearly all flowers showing off their delicate yellow petals. As such, the state has earned a reputation as “the best place in the United States to experience the vast sunflower blooms,” says Sara Otte Coleman, North Dakota’s tourism director, in a statement.

I found this interesting:

Blooming Sunflowers, Boris Eremin, Ukrainian artist

Blooming Sunflowers, Boris Eremin, Ukrainian artist

Ukrainian immigrants first began planting sunflowers when they moved to North Dakota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries following the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. Sunflowers are still an important plant for Ukrainians, both symbolically and economically. Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Ukraine was the largest exporter of sunflower oil in the world, though the war has largely halted production, per the New York Times’ Christine Hauser.

As well as this scientific fact:

When they’re young, sunflowers turn their heads toward the sun as it moves in the sky, a behavior known as heliotropism. But as they mature and start to produce seeds, they mostly point east, which scientists have learned helps the plants attract bees and ultimately reproduce.

Quite a few artists have painted sunflowers, and I’ve illustrated this post with some of those works.

 

On to today’s news…

Trump is melting down on his imitation twitter. So far, he has posted 60 times on Truth Social, including highlighting garbage from Q-anon and 4-chan.

Jake Epstein and Nicole Gaudiano at Insider: Trump posts dozens of memes attacking Biden, the FBI, and others as the former president’s allies beg him to keep quiet.

In the weeks since the FBI’s unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate, the former president’s allies have pleaded with him to stop publicly commenting on the raid and fight the Justice Department’s investigation in the courts.

Trump isn’t listening.

On Tuesday morning alone, Trump has taken to his Truth Social platform over four dozen times to share memes and posts attacking his political enemies. Some posts are memes attacking President Joe Biden or other Democrats, while others are baseless election fraud claims or attempts to delegitimize the FBI. 

One post in particular from Tuesday morning shows a photo of Trump with the false caption, “TRUMP WON,” in reference to the 2020 presidential election. The former president then reposted the photo and wrote that the “FBI has advanced this fact even further.” 

Another post included a photo with a caption that read: “81 million votes… and I’ve never seen a pro Biden hat, shirt or flag in my life.” Trump reposted the photo and said, “It is rather amazing, isn’t it?”

Trump earlier demanded in an all-caps filled message that he be reinstated as the “rightful winner” of the presidency or that a new election for president be held “immediately” — a request with no basis in constitutional law. 

If only there were some way to speed up the investigation and take this man off the streets.

Please, let him go to jail. . . please.

Republicans are getting nervous about what Trump’s insane behavior will mean for them in the upcoming midterm elections. Politico: ‘There’s enormous frustration’: Trump forces Republicans off-script… again.

The investigation into Donald Trump’s handling of classified national security records is forcing Republicans into a strained defense during a pre-midterm sprint in which they’d much rather be talking about Joe Biden.

After having decried the FBI’s search of the ex-president’s home, many Trump defenders went silent uponthe release on Friday of the probable-cause affidavit that revealed the extent of Trump’s efforts to hold onto the top-secret documents. GOP worries about the developments of the case and Trump announcing a 2024 run before November are giving way to a subtle, broader warning about putting the former president too much on the ballot this fall.

“Republicans should focus on defeating Democrats, and every Democrat should have the word Biden in front of their name,” said Trump ally and former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich. “The Republican focus should be to win the election in November. Trump will do a fine job defending himself. He’ll be fine.”

4-sunflowers-claude-monet

Sunflowers, by Claude Monet

Some top Republicans acknowledge the growing angst and concern, as it’s become clearer that Trump may have been warehousing some of America’s most sensitive secrets in an unsecured basement — and even refused to turn them over when the National Archives and Justice Department tried to recover them. One top Republican fundraiser asked to describe the mood among donors, said, “There is enormous frustration.”

“The question is, is there willingness to express that frustration,” the fundraiser added. “I don’t know the answer to that. But there is real frustration, and with the exception of people who are too stupid to understand the need to be frustrated, it is nearly universal.”

Strained defenses and private frustrations are familiar emotions for some Republicans during the Trump era. But the stakes are particularly high this fall, with projections of a red wave in the House getting dimmed to a smaller GOP majority and as Sen. Chuck Schumer appears potentially poised to remain in control of the Senate.

Republican hopes for winning back the Senate are looking worse all the time. Sahil Kapur at NBC News: Here are the signs Republicans’ hopes for a ‘red wave’ are receding ahead of the 2022 elections.

Last fall, Republicans held high hopes of a “red wave” in the 2022 elections after they stormed to power in blue-leaning Virginia and nearly won the governor’s race in New Jersey. While Democrats were demotivated, the GOP base was on fire.

But in recent weeks, numerous data points have indicated Republican prospects of a smashing victory are dimming. While the president’s party tends to perform poorly in midterm elections, there are signs it is shaping up to be an unusual year, potentially enabling Democrats to hold one or both chambers of Congress.

Some of the bad signs for the GOP:

  • A Democratic victory in a bellwether election. The starkest sign of a shifting landscape came last week in the Hudson Valley, a highly competitive district north of New York City that has mirrored the national landscape for years. It voted for Joe Biden in 2020, Trump in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012. In a red wave climate, Democrats would have no business winning the special House election. Yet Democrat Pat Ryan defeated Republican Marc Molinaro in a test of each party’s preferred message. Ryan ran on protecting abortion rights, combating gun violence and battling corporate greed, while Molinaro sought to make the election a referendum on Biden, inflation and “one-party” rule in Washington.
  • Persuadable voters are trending toward Democrats. The latest NBC News poll, conducted this month, included an unusual finding for midterm elections: Persuadable voters in the midterm election are tilting toward Democrats, the party in power. This group accounts for about 25% of respondents, who float between the parties and tend to be male, moderate, independent and exurban. They preferred Republicans by 6 points in the combined NBC News polls of January, March and May. But in the August poll, they leaned toward Democrats by 3 points.
  • The GOP’s “enthusiasm” edge is shrinking. In March, the NBC News poll found that Republicans held a 17-point “enthusiasm” advantage over Democrats — that is, their voters were more likely to express high interest in voting this fall. In the August poll, the GOP advantage fell to 2 points.
  • Mitch McConnell is downplaying expectations in the Senate. McConnell, the Republican leader, isn’t sounding too bullish about his prospects to capture control of the Senate, having predicted just two weeks ago, “There’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate.” That may be a product of the shifting environment, along with a phenomenon McConnell described as “candidate quality.” A series of first-time Republican contenders are struggling in competitive races against seasoned Democratic politicians. Recruitment failures in states like New Hampshire and Arizona have led GOP governors to decline to run.

Read the rest of the bad omens at the NBC link.

the-sunflower-1907, Gustav Klimt

The Sunflower, by Gustav Klimt, 1907

Today is the day the DOJ is supposed to file it’s response to the Trump request for a Special Master to review the government documents that the FBI recovered in its search of Mar-a-Lago. Yesterday the judge agreed the DOJ response could be 40 pages long. It looks like Merrick Garland is planning to spell out in detail what Trump is suspected of doing.

Tierney Sneed and Paul LeBlanc at CNN: DOJ to file lengthy response to Trump’s request for a special master to oversee Mar-a-Lago search review.

The Justice Department on Tuesday will file publicly in court its response to former President Donald Trump’s bid for a special master to oversee the FBI’s review of materials seized in the Mar-a-Lago search.

The agency was granted permission by Judge Aileen Cannon of the Southern District of Florida to file up to 40 pages after it said the 20-page limit set by the local rules of the court wasn’t sufficient to “adequately address the legal and factual issues raised by” Trump’s filings.

Cannon, a Trump appointee, did not set a specific deadline for the Justice Department’s filing beyond requesting it “on or before” Tuesday. The judge also ordered the agency to file under seal more details about what it seized from Trump’s resort, and a notice laying out the status of its review of the materials.

Trump must file his reply to the Justice Department by 8 p.m. ET Wednesday night, per Cannon’s order, and the judge has scheduled a hearing for Thursday to consider Trump’s request for a special master — a third-party attorney appointed by a court to oversee part of a certain case. Notably, Cannon has already signaled a “preliminary intent” to grant Trump’s request, which could bring new complications to the DOJ’s closely watched investigation.

Yesterday the DOJ said it has already reviewed the documents.

The Justice Department, meanwhile, has already signaled that it is using an internal filter team to review the seized items and separate material that could be subject to privilege claims.

In a court filing Monday, the agency said it has identified “a limited set of materials” from its search of documents taken from Mar-a-Lago that potentially contain material covered by attorney-client privilege and is in the process of addressing privilege disputes.

Meanwhile, Trump has hired a new attorney who may be more competent than that ones currently representing him. Marc Caputo at NBC News: Trump hires former Florida solicitor general in criminal probe of Mar-a-Lago documents.

Chris Kise, Florida’s former solicitor general who served on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ transition team, inked a contract to represent Donald Trump in the criminal case that resulted in the FBI search of the former president’s home in Mar-a-Lago, according to two sources with knowledge of the discussions.

twelve-sunflowers-in-a-vase-Vincent Van Gogh

Twelve sunflowers in a vase, by Vincent Van Gogh

Kise, who declined to comment, began negotiations with Trump shortly after the FBI’s search of his Palm Beach estate Aug. 8. Numerous other criminal defense attorneys have said they couldn’t represent the former president in the Southern District of Florida, citing the all-consuming job of representing Trump or his reputation as a penny-pinching problematic client with a history of having rival advisers who backstab one another, according to five people with knowledge of the legal effort.

Other attorneys declined because their firms wanted to avoid the political blowback of representing such a divisive figure, according to those in Trump’s orbit who say thatKise is considering leaving the firm of Foley & Lardner — where he had briefly represented Venezuela’s government two years ago when hostilities with the United States ran high — to take the job.

Kise has won four cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous ones before the Florida Supreme Court, and he also has a reputation as a skilled political knife fighter. In the waning days of the 2018 governor’s race, Kise widely publicized damaging information about Democrat Andrew Gillum secretly accepting free tickets to the Broadway show “Hamilton” from undercover FBI agents, in contravention of Florida’s ethics laws. Gillum, who denied wrongdoing, went on to narrowly lose to DeSantis and was indicted earlier this year following the FBI investigation.

Read the rest at the link.

We’ll have to wait until Thursday for the hearing in Judge Cannon’s court to learn more about how the investigation of Trump’s theft of highly classified government documents is going. Personally, I can’t wait!

What’s on your mind today? Please feel free to discuss any topic you wish in the comment thread below.


Lazy Caturday Reads: Revelations from the Mar-a-Lago Affidavit

Théophile Steinlen, Pierriot et le chat

Théophile Steinlen, Pierriot et le chat

Happy Caturday!!

Once again, it has been quite a week. I’ve been checking the latest headlines and looking around Twitter to see what’s happening. Of course, most of the political talk is about the redacted affidavit the DOJ used to get a warrant to search Mar-a-Lago for classified documents that Trump refused to return to the government.

After yesterday, legal experts are arguing that it is inevitable that Trump will be indicted and charged with obstruction and possibly with violations of the espionage act. Today, I see more experts speculating that Trump may have already shared top secret information with foreign parties. A number of people are sharing this timeline from The Intellectualist. Laufer is a well-known civil rights attorney.

Here are the latest stories on the search, the affidavit and what may happen next.

First up, this is from Andrew Weissman, a leading prosecutor in the Mueller investigation. The New York Times: We Knew the Justice Department Case Was Righteous. This Affidavit Confirms It.

Mr. Trump knows the answers to the most important unanswered questions: What material did he take from the White House, why did he take it, what had he done with it, and what was he planning to do with it? There is nothing that prevented him for over a year from publicly answering those questions; he surely has not remained silent because the answers are exculpatory.

Above all, the redacted affidavit (and an accompanying brief explaining the redactions), which was released on Friday, reveals more evidence of a righteous criminal case related to protecting information vital to our nation’s security.

girl-and-a-cat-anastasiya-malakhova

Girl and a cat, by Anastasiya Malakhova

I can assure you, based on my experience as the general counsel of the F.B.I., that although there may be too much information deemed sensitive at the lowest level of classification, that was never the case with top-secret material.

Indeed, the redacted affidavit details some of what was found in a preliminary review of material earlier returned by Mr. Trump at the repeated requests of National Archives officials, including “184 unique documents bearing classification markings, including 67 documents marked as confidential, 92 documents marked as secret and 25 documents marked as top secret.” An agent who reviewed that earlier material saw documents marked with “the following compartments/dissemination controls: HCS, FISA, ORCON, NOFORN and SI.”

The markings for top-secret and sensitive compartmented information indicate the highest level of security we have. Those levels protect what is rightly described as the crown jewel of the national security community.

Especially with information classified at that level, the government doesn’t get to pick and choose to defend the nation’s top secrets based on politics — it doesn’t matter if the person in question is a Democrat or Republican, a former president, a secretary of state or Edward Snowden. These documents belong to the government, and their having been taken away poseda clear risk to our national security.

Read the rest at the NYT link.

The Washington Post Editorial Board: The Trump affidavit shows the Mar-a-Lago search was hardly capricious.

Trump defenders have slammed the FBI’s search as aggressive and unwarranted. What has come out since, including on Friday, suggests the search was hardly capricious. Instead, all available evidence suggests it was a thoughtful choice made after other options had been exhausted. Along the way, the affidavit showed that the Justice Department considered the dubious defense from Mr. Trump’s allies that all the documents were declassified and that keeping them at Mar-a-Lago was therefore legal.

The catalogue of markings on the 184 classified documents agents reviewed before asking to search Mar-a-Lago also explains the DOJ’s determination to learn more. Acronyms such as SI, HCS, FISA and NOFORN might seem like collections of random letters to the layman, but they signify extraordinarily sensitive information: intelligence derived from clandestine human sources, for example, or from surveillance of foreign spies. That material in these categories was allegedly mixed in with other random papers as well as a mishmash of items reportedly including golf balls, a raincoat and a razor, is alarming — even absent intent to use them maliciously.

Read together, these facts should help assuage concerns that Attorney General Merrick Garland embarked on an ill-considered prosecutorial frolic when he sought to search Mar-a-Lago — though this reality is unlikely to stop the flow of reckless rhetoric from Trump acolytes. Meanwhile, those taking a more levelheaded approach should continue to do what they’ve done so far: wait. There was much we didn’t know before this affidavit was unsealed. There’s much we still don’t know now.

Milda Šležaitė, Boy with a cat

Milda Šležaitė, Boy with a cat

National security attorney Bradley Moss writes at The Daily Beast: It’s Over: Trump Will Be Indicted.

I have finally seen enough. Donald Trump will be indicted by a federal grand jury.

You heard me right: I believe Trump will actually be indicted for a criminal offense. Even with all its redactions, the probable cause affidavit published today by the magistrate judge in Florida makes clear to me three essential points:

(1) Trump was in unauthorized possession of national defense information, namely properly marked classified documents.

(2) He was put on notice by the U.S. Government that he was not permitted to retain those documents at Mar-a-Lago.

(3) He continued to maintain possession of the documents (and allegedly undertook efforts to conceal them in different places throughout the property) up until the FBI finally executed a search warrant earlier this month.

That is the ball game, folks. Absent some unforeseen change in factual or legal circumstances, I believe there is little left for the Justice Department to do but decide whether to wait until after the midterms to formally seek the indictment from the grand jury.

Moss says that if only Trump had cooperated after he was pressed by the National Archives last year instead of turning over some of the documents and holding on to the rest, he probably would have gotten away with taking them from the White House.

But Trump just could not bring himself to play by the rules. He turned over 15 boxes last January but did not turn over all the records. Political operatives from conservative organizations started whispering into his ear that he had legal precedent on his side to refuse to turn over the classified records to NARA (he did not). His lawyers surprisingly wrote a rather condescending letter to DOJ in May 2022, effectively arguing that even if there were still classified records at Mar-a-Lago the FBI lacked the authority to take any criminal action against Trump given his former status as president. Then, in June 2022 after the FBI executed a subpoena to recover more records at Mar-a-Lago, two Trump lawyers wrote (and one signed) a sworn affidavit reassuring the government there were no more classified records at the property.

Read more at the link.

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: Possibility of Obstruction Looms Over Trump After Thwarted Efforts to Recover Documents.

When the Justice Department proposed redactions to the affidavit underlying the warrant used to search former President Donald J. Trump’s residence, prosecutors made clear that they feared the former president and his allies might take any opportunity to intimidate witnesses or otherwise illegally obstruct their investigation.

Child with cat, Julie Manet, Pierre August Renoir

Child with cat, Julie Manet, Pierre August Renoir

“The government has well-founded concerns that steps may be taken to frustrate or otherwise interfere with this investigation if facts in the affidavit were prematurely disclosed,” prosecutors said in the brief.

The 38-page affidavit, released on Friday, asserted that there was “probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found at” Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound, indicating that prosecutors had evidence suggesting efforts to impede the recovery of government documents.

Since the release of the search warrant, which listed three criminal laws as the foundation of the investigation, one — the Espionage Act — has received the most attention. Discussion has largely focused on the spectacle of the F.B.I. finding documents marked as highly classified and Mr. Trump’s questionable claims that he had declassified everything held at his residence.

But by some measures, the crime of obstruction is as, or even more, serious a threat to Mr. Trump or his close associates. The version investigators are using, known as Section 1519, is part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a broad set of reforms enacted in 2002 after financial scandals at companies like Enron, Arthur Andersen and WorldCom.

The heavily redacted affidavit provides new details of the government’s efforts to retrieve and secure the material in Mr. Trump’s possession, highlighting how prosecutors may be pursuing a theory that the former president, his aides or both might have illegally obstructed an effort of well over a year to recover sensitive documents that do not belong to him.

To convict someone of obstruction, prosecutors need to prove two things: that a defendant knowingly concealed or destroyed documents, and that he did so to impede the official work of any federal agency or department. Section 1519’s maximum penalty is 20 years in prison, which is twice as long as the penalty under the Espionage Act.

There’s much more at the NYT link.

Julian Barnes and Mark Mazzetti at The New York Times: Classified Material on Human Intelligence Sources Helped Trigger Alarm.

They risk imprisonment or death stealing the secrets of their own governments. Their identities are among the most closely protected information inside American intelligence and law enforcement agencies. Losing even one of them can set back American foreign intelligence operations for years.

Clandestine human sources are the lifeblood of any espionage service. This helps explain the grave concern within American agencies that information from undercover sources was included in some of the classified documents recently removed from Mar-a-Lago, the Florida home of former President Donald J. Trump — raising the prospect that the sources could be identified if the documents got into the wrong hands.

child-and-cat-linda-bryant

Child and cat, by Linda Bryant

Mr. Trump has a long history of treating classified information with a sloppiness few other presidents have exhibited. And the former president’s cavalier treatment of the nation’s secrets was on display in the affidavit underlying the warrant for the Mar-a-Lago search. The affidavit, released in redacted form on Friday, described classified documents being found in multiple locations around the Florida residence, a private club where both members and their guests mingle with the former president and his coterie of aides.

Nothing in the documents released on Friday described the precise content of the classified documents or what risk their disclosure might carry for national security, but the court papers did outline the kinds of intelligence found in the secret material, including foreign surveillance collected under court orders, electronic eavesdropping on communications and information from human sources — spies….

Could Trump have already revealed secret sources of intelligence, as implied in the Tweet at the top of this post? I’m asking, not the NYT reporters. They note that Trump claimed he declassified all the documents at his resort, but . . .

“HCS information is tightly controlled because disclosure could jeopardize the life of the human source,” said John B. Bellinger III, a former legal adviser to the National Security Council in the George W. Bush administration. “It would be reckless to declassify an HCS document without checking with the agency that collected the information to ensure that there would be no damage if the information were disclosed.”

C.I.A. espionage operations inside numerous hostile countries have been compromised in recent years when the governments of those countries have arrested, jailed and even killed the agency’s sources.

Last year, a top-secret memo sent to every C.I.A. station around the world warned about troubling numbers of informants being captured or killed, a stark reminder of how important human source networks are to the basic functions of the spy agency. Honestly, I wouldn’t put it past Trump to have handed secret information over to Russia or Saudi Arabia.

Could Republicans be getting a little nervous about how serious the case against Trump is? Jonathan Weisman at The New York Times: Republicans, Once Outraged by Mar-a-Lago Search, Become Quieter as Details Emerge.

In the minutes and hours after the F.B.I.’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s residence in Florida this month, his supporters did not hesitate to denounce what they saw as a blatant abuse of power and outrageous politicization of the Justice Department.

maud-humphrey-girl-with-cat-1894_u-l-q1i5fog0

Maud Humphrey, Girl with cat, 1894

But with the release of a redacted affidavit detailing the justification for the search, the former president’s allies were largely silent, a potentially telling reaction with ramifications for his political future.

“I would just caution folks not to draw too many conclusions,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, a Republican, said on Fox News. It was a starkly different admonition from his earlier condemnations of what he said were “politically motivated actions.”

Some Republicans will no doubt rally around Mr. Trump and his claim that he is once again being targeted by a rogue F.B.I. that is still out to get him. His former acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said on Twitter that “this raid was, in fact, just about documents,” which he called “simply outrageous.” Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona and an ardent Trump ally, was on the right-wing broadcaster Newsmax denouncing the F.B.I. as politically biased, though he notably did not defend the former president’s possession of highly classified documents.

But generally, even the most bombastic Republicans — Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan of Ohio — were at least initially focused elsewhere. Ms. Greene was posting on Friday about border “invasions.” Ms. Boebert noted on Twitter the anniversary of the suicide bombing of U.S. service members at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mr. Jordan was focused on an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder. None tweeted about the affidavit.

Read the rest at the NYT.

A few more stories on the search and affidavit to check out:

Lloyd Green at The Guardian: The FBI’s Mar-a-Lago affidavit paints an unsettling portrait of Trump.

Mary Papenfuss at HuffPost: William Barr Rips Trump For ‘Pandering To Outrage’ Over Mar-A-Lago Search.

The New York Times: Inside the 20-Month Fight to Get Trump to Return Presidential Material.

Charlie Savage at The New York Times: The Affidavit for the Search of Trump’s Home, Annotated.

Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: 3 big things we learned from the Mar-a-Lago affidavit.

That’s quite a bit of reading material, I know. Pick and choose what interests you. What else is on your mind today?


Lazy Caturday Reads: Odds and Ends With Medieval Cats

“Organ cat, prayer book, Bruges or Ghent c. 1480-1490 (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum

“Organ cat, prayer book, Bruges or Ghent c. 1480-1490 (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum

Happy Caturday!!

It has been another busy news week, and today there are some stories that follow up on recent news and others that look further back in time. As we move closer to the midterm elections, things are looking better for Democrats to keep control of the Senate. Of course the fallout continues from the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. The judge in the case released more information on the search warrant, and there could be more coming.  A court has ordered the DOJ to release a memo related to the Mueller investigation that Bill Barr refused to make public. A Michigan judge made an important decision on abortion laws in the state. Finally, the NYT published a fascinating op-ed by two law professors who argue that the U.S. Constitution is “broken.”

Republican midterm woes

Bob Brigham at Raw Story: It’s Mitch McConnell’s fault ‘bumbling extremists’ are hurting the GOP: report.

On Thursday, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) seemed to admit that the Grand Old Party doesn’t have the highest quality roster of candidates.

“I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” McConnell said. “Senate races are just different, they’re statewide, candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”

Writing in Vanity Fair, Eric Lutz reported, “He didn’t mention any of those candidates directly, but he almost certainly could have been talking about any of Donald Trump’s handpicked contenders, who earned the former president’s support seemingly for one of two reasons: He knows them from television, or they’re loyalists who have organized their campaigns almost entirely around his 2020 election lies. There’s a lot of crossover there, obviously, but the first camp includes Mehmet Oz, a former TV doctor who apparently believes raw asparagus belongs in a crudité, and Herschel Walker, the former football great whose own campaign staff reportedly regards him as a ‘pathological liar.’” [….]

“Then there’s the second camp of MAGA candidates, which includes the likes of Blake Masters, the Peter Thiel protégé who literally has the backing of some of the Internet’s most well-known white nationalists. (Masters has attempted to distance himself from this community.) One of several extremists on the ballot in Arizona, where election deniers Kari Lake and Mark Finchem are respectively running for governor and secretary of state, Masters is trailing Democrat Mark Kelly by eight points, according to a Fox News poll released this week,” Lutz reported. “None of this to say to say that these bumbling extremists can’t win; if a country is capable of electing Trump president, Georgia is certainly capable of electing a guy like Walker. But McConnell’s apparent sense that this batch of bozos might dash GOP dreams of a Senate majority may be well-founded, even if midterms tend to favor the party that doesn’t control the White House.”

There’s more at the link.

The Washington Post: ‘It’s a rip-off’: GOP spending under fire as Senate hopefuls seek rescue.

Republican Senate hopefuls are getting crushed on airwaves across the country while their national campaign fund is pulling ads and running low on cash — leading some campaign advisers to ask where all the money went and todemand an audit of the committee’s finances, according to Republican strategists involved in the discussions.

cce5dffa09cd07e1392867bc4fe34d0eIn a highly unusual move, the National Republican Senatorial Committee this week canceled bookings worth about $10 million, including in the critical states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Arizona. A spokesman said the NRSC is not abandoning those races but prioritizing ad spots that are shared with campaigns and benefit from discounted rates. Still, the cancellations forfeit cheaper prices that came from booking early, and better budgeting could have covered both.

“The fact that they canceled these reservations was a huge problem — you can’t get them back,” said one Senate Republican strategist, who like others spokes on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. “You can’t win elections if you don’t have money to run ads.”

The NRSC’s retreat came after months of touting record fundraising, topping $173 million so far this election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission disclosures. But the committee has burned through nearly all of it, with the NRSC’s cash on hand dwindling to $28.4 million by the end of June.

As of that month, the committee disclosed spending just $23 million on ads, with more than $21 million going into text messages and more than $12 million to American Express credit cardpayments, whose ultimate purpose isn’t clear from the filings. The committee also spent at least $13 million on consultants, $9 million on debt payments and more than $7.9 million renting mailing lists, campaign finance data show.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

The Mar-a-Lago search

Insider: Newly unsealed documents from the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago put Trump in even worse legal peril, experts say.

Former President Donald Trump has offered a shifting array of defenses in response to the August 8 FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which uncovered a trove of secret documents.

Among them is the claim that he declassified all of the documents while in office under the president’s sweeping powers over national secrets.

But procedural documents unsealed Thursday by federal judge Bruce Reinhart, including the cover sheet of the warrant used in the search, revealed that this defense may not be as effective as Trump hoped, legal experts say.

One implication of the new information is that even if Trump is right about the documents being declassified, he still could have broken the law, Lawrence Tribe, a Harvard constitutional law scholar, tweeted….

eaa24cb69fb7796173a1ea2584132657[The cover sheet] showed that the FBI believes that Trump may be guilty of the willful retention of national defense information, concealment or removal of government records, and obstruction of federal investigation.

Bradley P. Moss, a national security attorney, told Insider that the new documents “clarify but ultimately do not change much” of what we previously knew.

A striking detail, he said, is that the FBI believes Trump has obstructed its probe.

“Clearly, the FBI currently believes Mr. Trump not only took properly marked classified documents to Mar-a-Lago, but he kept them and resisted turning them over when confronted by the government,” Moss said.

NBC News: Trump thinks the Mar-a-Lago search will help him in 2024. Some allies aren’t so sure.

The day after federal agents searched Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump told a group of conservative lawmakers that “being president was hell,” according to three people at the meeting.

But to some he sounded ready to have the job again.

“He was not to be deterred,” said Rep. Randy Weber of Texas, one of a dozen Republican House members who met with Trump on Aug. 9. He described Trump’s state of mind in the immediate aftermath of the search as “pretty miffed, but measured.” 

Everything that’s occurred since that Bedminster, New Jersey, meeting  — and since federal agents seized a trove of top secret and other highly classified documents from his resort — has put Trump exactly where he and his supporters want him to be, according to people close to him. He’s in a fight, squaring off with Washington institutions and a political establishment he says are out to get him, issues he brought up in the meeting with the lawmakers and in conversations with others.

ugly-medieval-cats-art-106-5aafb169b1ec0__700Taken together, it’s reoriented Trump’s thinking about whether he should announce a presidential campaign before or after the midterm elections, according to those who have spoken with him over the past two weeks. They said Trump feels less pressure to announce early because viable challengers who might otherwise force his hand have faded into the background. But there are other reasons to wait.

Trump is now inclined to launch his candidacy after the November elections, in part to avoid blame should an early announcement undermine the GOP’s effort to win control of Congress, said one person close to him, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk more freely.A post-midterm announcement would suit Republican leaders who’ve been urging Trump to hold off so that he doesn’t overshadow the party’s candidates.Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign and administration official, described Trump’s attitude in recent days after speaking with him, as “business as usual.”

Business as usual for Trump: the possibility of multiple criminal charges and crappy lawyers who have no clue how to defend a criminal.

Judge orders release of Bill Barr’s memo protecting Trump

The Washington Post: Court orders release of DOJ memo on Trump obstruction in Mueller probe.

A federal appeals court has ordered the release of a secret Justice Department memo discussing whether President Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The unanimous panel decision issued Friday echoes that of a lower court judge, Amy Berman Jackson, who last year accused the Justice Department of dishonesty in its justifications for keeping the memo hidden.

The panel of three judges, led by Chief Judge Sri Srinivasan, said that whether or not there was “bad faith,” the government “created a misimpression” and could not stop release under the Freedom of Information Act.

The memo was written by two senior Justice Department officials for then-attorney general William P. Barr, who subsequently told Congress that there was not enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry. A redacted version was released last year but left under seal the legal and factual analysis.

Department officials argued that the document was protected because it involved internal deliberations over a prosecutorial decision. But the judges agreed with Jackson that both Mueller and Barr had clearly already concluded that a sitting president could not be charged with a crime. The discussion was over how Barr would publicly characterize the obstruction evidence Mueller had assembled, the Justice Department conceded on appeal.

ugly-medieval-cats-art-135-5ab10dfb09a49__700A bit more from Politico: Appeals court backs ruling to release DOJ memo on Trump prosecution.

A federal appeals court ruled Friday that the Justice Department must make public an internal memo senior lawyers there prepared in 2019 about whether then-President Donald Trump’s actions investigated in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia amounted to crimes prosecutors would ordinarily charge.

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Justice Department failed to meet its legal burden to show that the memo from the department’s Office of Legal Counsel was part of a genuine deliberative process advising then-Attorney General William Barr on how to handle sensitive issues left unresolved when Mueller’s probe concluded in March 2019.

Trump was never charged in Mueller’s probe and the special prosecutor’s final report declined to opine on whether what he did in response to the investigation amounted to a crime.

However, some Trump opponents have called on the Attorney General Merrick Garland to reconsider the issue now that Trump is no longer president. Release of the long-sought DOJ memo could fuel those calls and draw more unwanted attention to Trump’s potential criminal liability at a time when he is besieged by a slew of other legal woes relating to his handling of classified government records, his role in inspiring many of those involved in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and his broader efforts to overturn Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election.

Abortion in Michigan

Detroit Free Press: Michigan judge issues indefinite ban on criminalizing abortions in key Michigan counties.

A Michigan judge ruled Friday prosecutors in the state’s largest counties are barred from bringing criminal charges for months to come under a state law banning most abortions.

The decision from Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Jacob Cunningham comes after two days of hearings and means every county in Michigan with an abortion clinic is at least temporarily immune from the threat of criminal prosecutions over abortion procedures.

“As currently applied, the court finds (the abortion law) is chilling and dangerous to our state’s population of childbearing people and the medical professionals who care for them,” Cunningham said.

ugly-medieval-cats-art-115-5aafbd8c8ffe9__700“The harm to the body of women and people capable of pregnancy in not issuing the injunction could not be more real, clear, present and dangerous to the court.”

At times, Cunningham seemed to ridicule arguments from conservative prosecutors seeking to enforce the 1931 abortion law. He said prosecutors would suffer zero harm from not having the ability to prosecute abortion providers.

Going much further, he told these prosecutors to instead focus their efforts elsewhere.

“The court suggests county prosecutors focus their attention and resources … to investigation and prosecution of criminal sexual conduct, homicide, arson, child and elder abuse, animal cruelty and other violent and horrific crimes that we see in our society,” Cunningham said.

Is the Constitution broken?

Ryan D. Doerfler and The Constitution Is Broken and Should Not Be Reclaimed. You’ll need to go to the NYT link if you’re interested, because it’s very long. The main idea is that the Constitution is dated and favors conservatives; liberals need to change their thinking about “constitutionalism.”

When liberals lose in the Supreme Court — as they increasingly have over the past half-century — they usually say that the justices got the Constitution wrong. But struggling over the Constitution has proved a dead end. The real need is not to reclaim the Constitution, as many would have it, but instead to reclaim America from constitutionalism.

The idea of constitutionalism is that there needs to be some higher law that is more difficult to change than the rest of the legal order. Having a constitution is about setting more sacrosanct rules than the ones the legislature can pass day to day. Our Constitution’s guarantee of two senators to each state is an example. And ever since the American founders were forced to add a Bill of Rights to get their handiwork passed, national constitutions have been associated with some set of basic freedoms and values that transient majorities might otherwise trample.

1_0eG0UKcj-KC4U0eU2YFNeABut constitutions — especially the broken one we have now — inevitably orient us to the past and misdirect the present into a dispute over what people agreed on once upon a time, not on what the present and future demand for and from those who live now. This aids the right, which insists on sticking with what it claims to be the original meaning of the past.

Arming for war over the Constitution concedes in advance that the left must translate its politics into something consistent with the past. But liberals have been attempting to reclaim the Constitution for 50 years — with agonizingly little to show for it. It’s time for them to radically alter the basic rules of the game.

In making calls to regain ownership of our founding charter, progressives have disagreed about strategy and tactics more than about this crucial goal. Proposals to increase the number of justices, strip the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to invalidate federal law or otherwise soften the blow of judicial review frequently come together with the assurance that the problem is not the Constitution; only the Supreme Court’s hijacking of it is. And even when progressives concede that the Constitution is at the root of our situation, typically the call is for some new constitutionalism.

If that whets your appetite for me, click the link and read the rest.

Those are today’s main political stories as I see it. Maybe we’ll have some time to take a breath before more shocking news breaks. I can use a quite weekend and I wish you the same.


Thursday Reads: The Search Aftermath

R. Kenton Nelson, 1954

R. Kenton Nelson, 1954

Good Afternoon!!

The top stories today are focused on the earthshaking FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. Of course there is other news; but I’m obsessed with bringing down Trump, so those stories are what interest me.

The only really new information to come out yesterday was this story by national security reporter William Arkin at Newsweek: Exclusive: An Informer Told the FBI What Docs Trump Was Hiding, and Where.

The raid on Mar-a-Lago was based largely on information from an FBI confidential human source, one who was able to identify what classified documents former President Trump was still hiding and even the location of those documents, two senior government officials told Newsweek.

The officials, who have direct knowledge of the FBI’s deliberations and were granted anonymity in order to discuss sensitive matters, said the raid of Donald Trump‘s Florida residence was deliberately timed to occur when the former president was away….

Both senior government officials say the raid was scheduled with no political motive, the FBI solely intent on recovering highly classified documents that were illegally removed from the White House. Preparations to conduct such an operation began weeks ago, but in planning the date and time, the FBI Miami Field Office and Washington headquarters were focused on the former president’s scheduled return to Florida from his residences in New York and New Jersey.

“They were seeking to avoid any media circus,” says the second source, a senior intelligence official who was briefed on the investigation and the operation. “So even though everything made sense bureaucratically and the FBI feared that the documents might be destroyed, they also created the very firestorm they sought to avoid, in ignoring the fallout.”

Of course it was Trump himself who ignited the firestorm by publicly announcing the FBI search, then whining, ranting, and grifting from his followers based on his supposed victimization.

In the past week, the prosecutor in the case and local Assistant U.S. Attorney went to Florida magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart in West Palm Beach to seek approval for the search of Donald Trump’s private residence. The affidavit to obtain the search warrant, the intelligence source says, contained abundant and persuasive detail that Trump continued to possess the relevant records in violation of federal law, and that investigators had sufficient information to prove that those records were located at Mar-a-Lago—including the detail that they were contained in a specific safe in a specific room.

“In order for the investigators to convince the Florida judge to approve such an unprecedented raid, the information had to be solid, which the FBI claimed,” says the intelligence source.

There’s much more background information in the article if you want a refresher.

Onelio Marrero

By Onelio Marrero

Today, The Wall Street Journal has more on the events that led up to the FBI warrant and search of Trump’s property: FBI Quest for Trump Documents Started With Breezy Chats, Tour of a Crowded Closet. Why interactions between FBI, Trump team soured remains a mystery.

Around lunchtime on June 3, a senior Justice Department national security supervisor and three FBI agents arrived at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida to discuss boxes with government records sitting in a basement storage room along with suits, sweaters and golf shoes.

A few days later, the FBI sent a note asking that a stronger lock be installed on the storage room door, signing off: “Thank you. Very truly yours, Jay Bratt, chief of counterintelligence and export control section.”

In the following weeks, however, someone familiar with the stored papers told investigators there may be still more classified documents at the private club after the National Archives retrieved 15 boxes earlier in the year, people familiar with the matter said. And Justice Department officials had doubts that the Trump team was being truthful regarding what material remained at the property, one person said. Newsweek earlier reported on the source of the FBI’s information.

Two months later, two dozen Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were back at Mar-a-Lago with a warrant predicated on convincing a federal magistrate judge that there was evidence a crime may have been committed. After hours at the property, the agents took the boxes away in a Ryder truck.

Many elements of what happened between those events—one seemingly cordial, the other unheard of—remain unknown. But the episode points to a sharp escalation in the Justice Department’s inquiry into Mr. Trump, which also includes an investigation into the events leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on the Capitol. And it has prompted outrage from Republicans, who have rallied around Mr. Trump as he contemplates running again for president.

The WSJ says it’s a mystery why the DOJ investigation “escalated” to the point where the FBI was directed to search Trump’s property. It doesn’t seem that mysterious to me. Right-wing “reporter” John Solomon writes that Trump received a grand jury subpoena “months before” the “raid.” Obviously, the situation escalated when Trump ignored the subpoena.

The WSJ story doesn’t seem to have a paywall (I got there from Memeorandum), so you can read much more at the link. It’s very long, but Politico has a good summary of the facts from the WSJ article:

On June 3, JAY BRATT, chief of counterintelligence and export control section at the Department of Justice, visited Mar-a-Lago to inspect a storage room that contained presidential documents. By this point in his standoff with the government, Trump had already returned 15 boxes of records to the National Archives, which subsequently found “classified national security information” among the returned items.

Trump, who stopped by the June inspection to greet Bratt, had told the government that there was no more classified material in his possession. The dispute, it appeared, when Bratt showed up, was about returning what Trump represented to be non-sensitive documents. Retaining non-classified documents is still a violation of the strict Presidential Records Act, but the available evidence suggests the two sides were working it out.

onelio-marrero being-transported

Being Transported by Onelio Marrero

But things started to escalate. Five days later, Bratt sent Trump’s lawyer, EVAN CORCORAN, an email, a copy of which was read over the phone to the Journal: “We ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.”

Then, on June 22, the government subpoenaed Mar-a-Lago surveillance footage, which the Journal says was provided.

And then on Monday, the FBI warrant was executed.

The mystery is: What changed?

The answer, according to the Journal, is that an informant told the FBI that Trump was lying.

This morning, Mick Mulvaney spoke to CNN about the FBI search, and in the midst of multiple lies and obfuscation he revealed something important. Politicus USA: Mick Mulvaney Says The FBI Informant Is Someone Very Close To Trump.

Former White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said that only six or eight people would have the info given to the FBI, so the informant is someone very close to Trump.

“I didn’t know there was a safe at Mar-a-Lago and I was the chief of staff for 15 months. This would be someone handling things on day to day, who knew where documents were, so it would be somebody very close to the president, my guess is there are probably six or eight people who had that kind of information.

I don’t know the people on the inside circle these days. I can’t give any names of folks who come to mind, but your instinct is a good one if you know where the safe is and you know the documents are in ten boxes in the basement, you are pretty close to the president.”

If Mulvaney is correct, and the informant is someone very close to the former president, it makes sense that the FBI might also have knowledge of what Trump was planning on doing with the documents that he stole from the White House.

Jacob Lawrence, the Library, 1960

Jacob Lawrence, the Library, 1960

Of course the MAGA maniacs are up in arms. Kyle Cheney and Meredith McGraw at Politico: Trump world gripped with anger, fear and a host of conspiracies about the FBI search.

In the wake of news that the FBI agents executed a court-authorized search warrant at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, Trump’s allies and aides have begun buzzing about a host of potential explanations and worries. Among those being bandied about is that the search was a pretext to fish for other incriminating evidence, that the FBI doctored evidence to support its search warrant — and then planted some incriminating materials and recording devices at Mar-a-Lago for good measure — and even that the timing of the search was meant to be a historical echo of the day President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974.

“There are no coincidences when it comes to the Deep State. They could have done this raid a couple of days before or tomorrow, but they chose Aug. 8 for a reason,” Monica Crowley, a former top official in the Trump Treasury Department, said on the “War Room” podcast.

Trump world is no stranger to being deeply suspicious, even conspiratorial. But the speculation sparked by the FBI search has taken on a different scope, coming amid a combination of anxiety — that the so-called Deep State is out to get the former president — and a dearth of public information about the bureau’s actions.

“I can tell you all of us agree this is corrupt,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump confidante whose service in the Trump administration was marked by attacks he waged on career officials and an acrimonious exit. “Many people in Trump world agree with me that this is theater and this is designed to damage the president, this is designed to damage Republicans in the midterms and it is designed to advance the interests of the Democratic Party. And you know what, they completely failed.”

There is no evidence that the Department of Justice did anything improper, and it in fact obtained approval from a federal court to obtain its search warrant. Trump himself could answer some of the lingering questions. He is at liberty to disclose the warrant — though he has not been provided the underlying affidavit — and to describe the files that were confiscated by the FBI. But so far he has opted against doing so.

Adolph-MENZEL-A Seated Woman Reading (Portrait of Emilie Fontane)

Adolph Menzel, A Seated Woman Reading (Portrait of Emilie Fontane

More on Trump’s and MAGA world’s paranoia from Asawin Suebsaeng at Rolling Stone: With Feds Circling, Trump Asks Allies: Who’s ‘Wearing a Wire’?

Donald Trump is worried he may have a rat — or multiple rats — in his midst. He’s wondering if his phones are tapped, or even if one of his buddies could be “wearing a wire.”

As the federal and state investigations into Trump and his orbit swell, so have the former president’s suspicions, according to two sources familiar with the matter and another two people close to the twice-impeached former Oval Office occupant. 

This summer, Trump has asked close associates if they think his communications are being monitored by the feds, or — per his phrasing — “by Biden.” As a source close to Trump describes it to Rolling Stone: “He has asked me and others, ‘Do you think our phones are tapped?’ Given the sheer volume of investigations going on into the [former] president, I do not think he’s assuming anything is outside the realm of possibility.”

The source adds, “He’s talked about this seriously [in the past few months], but I know of one time when he made a joke that was something like, ‘Be careful what you say on the phone!’”

Moreover, on at least a couple of occasions since May, the former president has wondered aloud if there were any Republicans visiting his clubs who could be “wearing a wire,” according to another person close to Trump and a different source familiar with the matter. Trump and his allies are baselessly floating the idea that federal agents could be guilty of “planting” incriminating evidence at his private resort. And the ex-president and several of his longtime advisers are trying to figure out if they have, in their terminology, a “mole” or a “rat” in Trump’s inner sanctum who is slipping his secrets to the feds. 

More stories about the search to check out:

I highly recommend this piece by Brian Karam at Salon: No exit: After Mar-a-Lago raid, Trump is trapped — and his fear is palpable. It actually helped me feel somewhat hopeful.

Emptywheel: The Likely Content of a Trump Search Affidavit.

The Washington Post: Citizen Trump may have broken a law that President Trump made a felony.

The Daily Beast: Hell Week: How Trump’s Problems All Converged at Once.

Vice News: Far-Right Extremists Are Violently Threatening the Trump Search-Warrant Judge.

Law and Crime: Federal Magistrate Judge Orders DOJ to Respond to Media and Non-Profit Requests to Unseal Trump Search Warrant.

New York Magazine: ‘You Can’t Play the Cable-News Game in Court.’

Have a great Thursday Sky Dancers!!