The investigation into Donald Trump’s alleged implication in the classified documents saga may conclude soon, according to news outlet CNN.
The anti-Trump network again thinks it has the goods on the former president as new evidence in the case has emerged, journalists claim.
CNN reported May 18 that the National Archives will soon give the special counsel 16 records that Trump and his aides were supposedly sent with instructions that should have made them realize there was a “correct declassification process” that Trump and his staffers ignored and should have followed.
Is This the Smoking Gun?
Trump and his legal team believe that as commander-in-chief Trump is the ultimate arbiter of what is classified and what is not.
Naturally, CNN thinks it again has the smoking gun on Trump. The former president is convinced that special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation is politically motivated and that President Joe Biden has stored unclassified records too rendering the whole thing much ado about nothing.
Trump Supposedly Knew the Proper Procedures of Handling Classified Documents
CNN claimed it obtained a letter from the National Archives that said, “The 16 records in question all reflect communications involving close presidential advisers, some of them directed to you personally, concerning whether, why, and how you should declassify certain records.”
Fine, so Trump may have been negligent and sloppy when it comes to holding classified material but is this a crime? The special counsel’s case must show beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump’s actions were the result of criminal intent.
The documents were mixed in with personal, collectible material that Trump likely wanted to keep for sentimental reasons. Perhaps he wanted to write a memoir based on those keepsake documents or display them at a future presidential library. He may have made a mistake by keeping the classified material but the intent to commit a crime is just not there.
Is Trump Just a Messy Marvin?
Even the FBI admitted that the classified material they found was mixed in with magazine and newspaper clippings plus books, clothes, and gifts. So, Trump is guilty of acting like a teenager with a messy room. To continue this analogy, and forgive me as I do so, his “parents” at the National Archives tried to get the petulant child to clean his room and they had to send in the authorities to rummage through it to look for what amounts to be his lost and forgotten “homework assignments.” That is just what my wife and I have to do with my ninth-grade son when his room looks like a disaster area. Being a messy Marvin doesn’t constitute a crime.
Trump would say that the Biden administration is once again hectoring him over minor transgressions that are designed to hurt his presidential chances.
This Does Not Rise to the Level of a Crime
CNN thinks that having classified material makes for a grave national security threat. The left-leaning network also believes that Trump knew the documents were classified, that Trump was aware of what the correct procedures were to declassify them, and he kept them despite a subpoena. That may be true, but does that really break the Espionage Act of 1917? Having these documents is not some form of treason, it is more accidental and negligent than anything else.
Trump also said that documents automatically became declassified when he took them from the White House. As a former commander-in-chief who makes the final decision on everything related to national security, he may have a plausible point, although it is true a jury may not believe this is the case. So, CNN may have a point in that regard.
But Trump’s lawyer explained, “At the end of his presidency, he relied on the constitutional authority as commander-in-chief, which is to take documents and take them to Mar-a-Lago while still president at the time, and to effectively declassify and personalize them.”
That is the key here for a grand jury and potential criminal jury. These documents were of a personal nature that Trump has a right to keep that commemorated events of his presidency and were stored as keepsakes for sentimental reasons – not as a means to commit a crime. There is reasonable doubt here.
Donald Trump may be indicted for this by a grand jury. The jurors will see photos of the classified documents at his residence and be convinced by the prosecution that this was potentially illegal.
Still, Trump has a plausible defense, which may be enough to convince a future criminal jury that there was no intent to commit a crime.
Author Expertise and Experience
Serving as 19FortyFive’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.