One morning in August 2022, FBI agents raided a mansion in Palm Beach, looking for boxes containing top-class Pentagon and CIA documents in an open space where parties were constantly held.
And it seems that a former president considered that he could do whatever he wanted with American secrets and even disclose them to foreign officials, according to the “AFP.”
For his supporters, the case of Donald Trump and the confidential documents is a political matter, nothing more than President Joe Biden’s revenge against his former and future rival for the White House.
But for a secret-obsessed Washington, the prospect of losing control of top-secret information is a nightmare that requires silencing Trump.
And 10 months after federal agents raided Trump’s luxurious home in Mar-a-Lago in search of classified documents, the Department of Justice charged him with 37 counts of violating confidentiality laws and obstructing an investigation, carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if convicted.
And he was able to avoid unprecedented criminal charges, as Trump was given several opportunities to hand over the documents, but he did not hand them over.
“Wouldn’t it be better to tell them we don’t have anything here?” Trump told one of his lawyers after the FBI obtained a legal warrant, according to the indictment.
“Secrets in the bathroom”
Trump left the White House in January 2021 with boxes containing memorabilia, photos, clothes and Oval Office papers, trucked to Mar-a-Lago.
But those documents were not supposed to be released. White House documents are by law the property of the National Archives, and classified files should remain unavailable to those without security clearances.
In May 2021, the National Archives found that there are important records that do not exist among what the outgoing Trump administration handed over.
In January 2022, the National Archives received 15 boxes from Mar-a-Lago. It contained more than 100 confidential files.
Some of the files bore seals of the highest degree of secrecy, as well as documents that could reveal the most important secrets.
This necessitated the intervention of the FBI’s counterintelligence department concerned with leaking state secrets.
Under the memorandum, the elements asked Trump to return confidential documents that he may have.
After an inspection of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s lawyers handed an envelope containing everything they found to the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence department, in an official acknowledgment that this is all that remains.
However, video recordings obtained by the FBI office in the following weeks showed workers in Mar-a-Lago moving boxes containing documents from a storage room in the basement.
This led to the raid, which was carried out by the FBI on August 8.
Trump was not in Mar-a-Lago when the search took place and thousands of additional documents were seized, including dozens of top-secret documents.
According to the indictment issued Friday, Trump randomly kept files on nuclear secrets, war plans, weapons programs and national vulnerabilities in his personal office, banquet hall, bedroom and bathroom.
50 million documents annually
For Trump loyalists, the issues are secondary, and they consider that a former president simply sought to keep some papers that print his four years in the White House, or that he made a common mistake.
Indeed, since the Mar-a-Lago raid, secret documents were found in files that Joe Biden carried with him in 2017 after the end of his duties as vice president, and in the home of Mike Pence, who was Trump’s vice president.
But both of them handed over the documents voluntarily.
Critics say the problem is the result of Washington’s secretive and out-of-control ratings system.
Each year, nearly 50 million decisions are made to classify government documents in categories such as “unauthorized”, “secret” or “top secret”, but only a small fraction of them deserve those classifications.
Brookings Institution security expert Bruce Riedel said last year that classifying documents is “the safest decision in terms of bureaucratic procedures.”
On the other hand, Trump’s position posed a challenge to the institutions of Washington, where access to secrets is a political power, and the protection of classified documents is a sacred duty, and misusing them is a crime.
For example, on June 1, former Air Force intelligence officer Robert Birchum was sentenced to three years in prison for taking home hundreds of classified files. He never showed it to anyone.
When he assumed the presidency in 2017, Trump displayed disdain for the US intelligence community and irresponsibly handled secrets he learned in regular briefings.
In a meeting in the Oval Office, he told visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of new intelligence obtained from Israel about a plan for the Islamic State.
He posted on Twitter a top-secret photo of an exploding Iranian missile, contrary to the advice of his aides.
This informal approach continued after he left the White House. The indictment said Trump twice showed top-class military documents to his acquaintances at Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey.
He is believed to have told a visitor: “This is classified information.”