Why did Trump want the White House records?
So far, we do not know the answer to that question. That has led to wild unsubstantiated speculation. The reasons seem to be known only to President Trump – and perhaps a few other folks close to him. Family and friends.
The speculation proffers all kinds of bad reasons he took his files home. That is understandable since there is not an obvious good reason. As President, he would have had access to them no matter where they were archived.
Most White House and Executive Branch records are archived in Washington. A small portion is archived at various presidential libraries. Some of those are copies of documents that are held by the National Archives. Secret and classified documents are almost never moved out of Washington or made available to the public – at least for years or decades.
One of the reasons archiving is also important is because the documents are professionally cataloged – making it easier for researching and referencing.
The records Trump took home creates two issues. Has Trump removed classified information improperly beyond the protective guiderails – a potential serious crime of espionage? Or has he essentially declassified them by saying he did – and that taking them home was evidence of declassification?
As much as Trump-haters would like to pin espionage on Trump, that is a very steep legal climb because it is very arguable that he has unfettered right to declassify any document within the Executive Branch – at any time and in any manner. As long as he is President at the time.
Despite the public debate of Trump’s powers in that regard, it is an unsettled constitutional issue. It will take a Supreme Court decision or a constitutional amendment (which I favor) to clarify the issue.
Then there is the issue of taking the records home … period. That creates a much more serious problem for Trump because of the 1978 Presidential Records Act. In brief, it says sending those records to Mar-a-Lago without some specific authorizations is a no-no. Illegal.
There is not a lot of wiggle room in that law. Conceivably, Trump could challenge the constitutionality of that law, but that is a stretch. Personally, I doubt the Court would take the case.
The next issue is just how serious is violating that law. It all depends. If you take them home unwittingly – or with some reasonable explanation – it could be no big deal. It would depend on the volume of records taken home and the types of records. Also on the President’s willingness to return them expeditiously.
Previous records and objects taken home by previous presidents have been returned upon request. As I recall, President Clinton had to return some of the gifts from other heads-of-state. (I wonder if they returned all the “W” keys the Clinton folks took from the keyboards as a jibe at incoming President George W. Bush.)
Trump, on the other hand, has put up a fight through statements and legal actions. He returned some, but not all.
And that brings the question as to “why”. Why does Trump want to maintain personal and exclusive possession? That is the Achilles Heel of his position. He has offered no good explanation.
One can easily argue that the Department of Justice overreacted in raiding Mar-a-Lago. One can speculate that Attorney General Merrick Garland has political motives — like revenge on Trump and the GOP for denying him a seat on the Supreme Court. Unsubstantiated speculation can go both ways in this environment.
Trump’s insistence on maintaining whatever he is maintaining without a credible explanation does not bode well for his image or legal vulnerabilities.
Those on the left seem to believe that Trump has committed a plethora of crimes – and will be subjected to multiple indictments, convictions and jail terms. That is more likely wishful thinking than good legal analysis.
However, I think Trump could get indicted for violating the Presidential Records Act – but not because he took records home, but because he refused to return them, and may having fibbed in the process.
What is so important that Trump feels the need to fight so hard to keep something he has no reason to maintain personally? Why? Why? Why?
My wise mother used to say that everything will make sense if you know all the facts. It is what we know we do not know that is the problem. In many of the other legal cases Trump faces, I can envision a defense argument, but not in this case. Blustering that they are “my records” is not enough.
The raid on Mar-a-Lago still bothers me, but on the larger issue, I do not see how Trump avoids an indictment if he continues with his current strategy of irrational defiance.
In the meantime, Trump is just providing political fodder for the Democrats — mucking up the Republicans’ midterm election campaigns. Too often he is the bull in the GOP china shop.
So, there ‘tis.