• Klassified Kapers: Hillary v. Trump

    September 23, 2022 // 4 Comments »

    Hillary versus Trump in their Klassified Kapers. Both kept classified information at their homes, both appeared to break the law, only one may be legally punished. But which one wins the battle to have done more damage to national security than your average enemy spy?

    In the end when dealing with the damage done by mishandling classified information it comes down to exposure; who saw it, what was it, and when was it seen?

    The “who” part is clear enough; a document left inadvertently on a desk top in an embassy guarded by Marines might be seen by locally hired cleaning staff at worst. A document left on a park bench and seized by the local police risks direct exposure to the host country intelligence services if not sale to the highest bidder depending on the locale.

    The “what” is the real stuff of James Bond and even actual spies. A lot of things are classified, many perhaps overclassified. The Director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University estimates 70 percent of the documents he sees are overclassified. Donald Rumsfeld put it at 50 percent. Just because something is marked Top Secret does not mean the information there really is, but it still might rightly qualify as classified at the Confidential level. It would take a knowledgeable person looking at documents one-by-one to conclude which of the 7 out of 10 were overclassified.

    Other times “what” is classified is in the eye of the beholder. The Secretary of State’s daily list of telephone calls to make is always highly classified. It might matter very little to a Russian spy that the Secretary is calling the leader of Cyprus on Wednesday but matter an awful lot to the leader of nearby Greece. That is why intelligence services often horsetrade, buying and selling info they pick up along the way about other countries for info they need about theirs. One of the most deeply-run intel operations against the State Department involved a Euro-ally looking for info on a competitor by listening in to third party U.S. diplomatic sites where the data was treated almost as spam.

    The “when” aspect is also important as many documents are correctly classified at one point in their history but lose value over time. One classic example is a convoy notification; it matters a lot who knows tomorrow at midnight the convoy will set forth from A to B. It matters a whole lot less a month later after the whole affair has come and gone and everybody in town saw the convoy arrive.

    Lastly, we have the unknown factor in judging our contest. Few countries actively harvesting intelligence are in the mood to tell anyone about it. In fact, just the opposite. Even when caught spies deny everything such that one of counter-intelligence’s main tasks after a bad guy is caught is to try and figure out what he likely gained access to, which documents or information he got. Note the “or” there because it is always information, data, which is classified, not pieces of paper. Much damage can be done with a diplomat’s hand written notes of a meeting, unmarked by a classification such as Secret, compared to a document marked Secret but containing nothing really worth keeping quiet. The marking on a document is only the drafter’s best estimate of what the information on paper really is worth. This all makes it hard to judge the relative impact of one exposure to another, but there are other ways.

    So those are the ground rules, on to Hillary versus Trump!

    We start the contest with raw number of documents potentially exposed. In Trump’s case we have a decent tally, thanks to the Department of Justice. The initial batch of documents retrieved by the National Archives from Trump in January included more than 150 marked as classified. With the recent search raid, more were found such that the government recovered over 300 documents with classified markings from Trump since he left office. This worked out to over 700 pages of classified material and “special access program materials,” especially clandestine stuff that might include info on the source itself, the gold star of intelligence gathering. If you learn who the spy is inside your own organization you can shoot him, arrest him, find other spies in his ring, or turn him into a double agent to feed bogus information back to your adversary. To be fair, our contest is a bit unfair to Trump, as inventories of what was found at Mar-a-Lago are online for all to see.

    In Hillary’s case just coming to a raw number is very hard, as she destroyed her server before it could be placed into evidence and completely deleted (bleached) many, many emails. Because her stash was email the secret files were also not all in their original paper cover folders boldly marked Top Secret with bright yellow borders, as in Trump’s case. Hillary also stripped the classification markings off many documents in the process of transferring them from the State Department’s classified network to her own homebrew server setup. More on that later.

    Nonetheless, according to the FBI, from the group of 30,000 e-mails returned to the State Department, 110 were determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received. Eight of those chains contained information Top Secret at the time they were sent, with some labeled as “special access program materials.” Some 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information. Separate from those, about 2,000 additional e-mails were “up-classified” to make them Confidential; the information in those had not been classified at the time the messages were sent, suggesting they were drafts in progress, in the process of being edited before a classification was ultimately assigned.

    So in simple terms based on the albeit thin information available publicly, Trump wins the category for having the most raw material, classified documents, outside an officially secured facility.

    In this race, the “what” is a toss-up. Little information exists on specifically what each document trove held, though the WaPo claims one of Trump’s docs detailed a foreign country’s nuclear capability (ironically, the leak from DOJ revealing the document’s contents suggests things were more secure at Mar-a-Lago than after the search) giving him a slight lead in this category. Clinton only discussed Top Secret CIA drone info and approved drone strikes via Blackberry.

    But the real money-maker in the classified world is exposure, and here we finally have a clear leader. For all the noise around Mar-a-Lago, there is nothing to suggest the classified Trump held was ever exposed; in fact, information available suggests the stuff left the White House to remain boxed up inside a storage room. We know that after classified was id’ed inside Mar-a-Lago by the National Archives, DOJ asked Trump to provide a better lock, which he did, and later to turn over surveillance tapes of the storage room, which he did. But the clearest evidence of non-exposure is the lack of urgency on the part of all concerned to bust up Trump’s Klassified Kaper. Claims he removed classified documents from the White House began circulating even as he moved out in January 2021. The first public evidence of classified in Mar-a-Lago waited until January 2022 when the initial docs were seized, and the recent search warrant tailed that by months. It suggests if the FBI thought classified material was in imminent danger of being exposed to one of America’s adversaries they might have acted with a bit more alacrity.

    Not so with Hillary. Her server was connected to the internet, meaning for a moderately clever adversary there was literally a wire between her computer with its classified information and the Kremlin. As the actual Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintained an unsecured private email server which processed classified material on a daily basis. Her server held at least 110 known messages containing classified information, including e-mail chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, the highest level of civilian classification, that included the names of CIA and NSA employees. The FBI found classified intelligence improperly stored and transmitted on Clinton’s server may have been “compromised by unauthorized individuals, to include foreign governments or intelligence services, via cyber intrusion or other means.” How could anyone have gained access to the credentials? Um, Clinton’s digital security certificate was issued by consumer-level GoDaddy.

    The last bit seals it: we have a winner. Whether anyone unauthorized got a look at Trump’s stash remains unclear, but we know for near-certain Hillary’s was compromised. And by compromised we mean every email the Secretary of State sent wide open and read, an intelligence officer’s dream. Hillary had no full-time physical security on her server, her server was enabled for logging in via web browser, smartphone, Blackberry, and tablet, and she communicated with it on 19 trips abroad including to Russia and China. It would have taken the Russians zero seconds to see she was using an unclassified server, and half a tick or two to hack (hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact) into it. Extremely valuable to the adversary were the drafts, documents in progress, a literal chance to look over Clinton’s shoulder as she made policy.

    Unknown is the actual process Hillary used to move classified material to and from her server from the main State Department and other systems. If she transferred data the most likely and convenient way, via floppy disk or USB drive, then she likely compromised the State Department systems as well. Her SysAdm for the home server was a State Department Civil Service employee she hired and so suggests a link between State computer hardware and the Secretary’s own. We’ll never know, as no search warrant was exercised to seize the server and Hillary’s word was taken when she said there was no chance of compromise. All we can say is some intelligence officer in Moscow or Beijing was probably promoted to Colonel off this one.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Prosecuting Trump

    September 6, 2022 // 9 Comments »

    What would you do if you were Merrick Garland? Would you prosecute Trump? Or would you walk away, concerned about accusations you and the FBI were playing politics?

    Step One appears easy, put off any decision until after the midterms. Trump is not a candidate, key issues driving the midterms (inflation, Ukraine, Roe) are not his issues and though Trump is actively stumping for many candidates, initiating any prosecution before the midterms is just too obvious. Nothing else about Mar-a-Lago has had an urgency to it (months passed from the initial voluntary turnover of documents and the forced search) and announcing an indictment now would be a terrible opening move. So if you’re Garland, you have some time.

    On the other hand waiting until after the midterms can be dangerous if as expected the Republicans do well and take both the House and the Senate. Even with slim majorities Republicans are expected to initiate their own hearings, into Hunter Biden’s laptop and how the FBI played politics with that ahead of the 2020 election. Holding off an indictment until that is underway risks making your case look like retaliation for their case. That’s a bad look for a Department of Justice which claims it is not playing politics. It would look even worse if the Republicans try and cut you off, opening some sort of hearings into the Mar-a-Lago search prior to an indictment. Nope, if you’re Merrick Garland you are caught between a rock and a hard place.

    But there is a bigger question: if you are Garland and you indict Trump, can you win? Candidate Trump is already earning a lot of partisan points claiming he is the victim of banana republic politics, and his indictment ahead of 2024 (it matters zero if he has formally announced or not, he is running of course) will allow him to claim he was right all along. An indictment will allow Trump to fire both barrels, one aimed at Garland and the other at the FBI and these, coupled with the dirty tricks a Republican investigation into the FBI and Russiagate will expose will make Trump look very right. He was the victim of partisan use of justice, and the FBI did try to influence both the 2016 election (with Russiagate) and the 2020 (by deep-sixing Hunter Biden’s laptop claiming falsely it was Russian misinformation) and now is taking a swing at 2024 with the Mar-a-Lago documents. If public opinion moves further to Trump’s side, Merrick Garland through his indictment just reelected Trump to the White House as a sympathy candidate. The spooks call that blowback, and it is a real threat in this instance.

    Any action against Trump must preserve what is left of faith in the rule of law applied without fear or favor, or risk civil disenfranchisement if not outright civil unrest. Garland will have to address the most obvious precedent case involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who maintained an unsecured private email server which processed classified material. Her server held e-mail chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level which included the names of CIA and NSA employees. The FBI found classified intelligence improperly stored on Clinton’s server “was compromised by unauthorized individuals, to include foreign governments or intelligence services, via cyber intrusion or other means.” Clinton and her team destroyed tens of thousands of emails, potential evidence, as well as physical phones and Blackberries which potentially held evidence. She operated the server out of her home kitchen despite the presence of the Secret Service on property who failed to report it. Her purpose in doing all this appeared to have been avoiding Freedom of Information Act requests during her tenure as SecState, and maintaining control over what records became part of the historical archive post-tenure.

    Clinton seems to have violated all three statues Trump was searched under. If the FBI is going to take a similar fact sets and ignore one while aggressively pursuing another, it risks being seen as partial and political. Any further action against Trump and certainly any prosecution of him must address why Hillary was not searched and prosecuted herself. Fair is fair, and after all nobody is above the law.

    The other fear holding Garland back would be that of losing the case outright in court. Classified documents are typically dealt with either via administrative penalties (an officer is sent home for a few days without pay) or as part of some much larger espionage case where the documents were removed illegally as part of the subject spying for a foreign country. Rarely is a case brought all the way to court for simple possession. Most of the laws Trump may have broken require some sort of intent to harm the United States. In other words, Trump would have had to have taken the documents not just for ego or his library or as some uber-souveniers but with the specific intent to commit harm against the United States. Garland certainly does not have that.

    Other factors which typically play into documents cases are also not in Garland’s favor. Despite not being kept in line with General Services Administration standards, the documents appear to have been locked away securely at Mar-a-Lago, the premises itself guarded by the Secret Service. Trump has already turned over surveillance video of the documents storage location, which presumably does not show foreign agents wandering in and out of frame. It is much harder to prosecute a case when no actual harm was shown done to national security.

    Another factor in documents cases involves the content of the documents themselves. The uninformed press has made much of the classification markings, but Garland will need to show the actual content of the docs was damaging to the U.S., and that Trump knew that. Overclassification will play a role, as will the age and importance of the information itself; after all, it is that information which is classified, not the piece of paper itself marked Secret. Garland will know Trump will fight him page by page, meaning much of the classified will be exposed in court and/or the trial will move to classified sessions to shield the information but feed the conspiracy machine. One can hear Trump arguing his right to a public trial being taken away.

    Hyperbole aside, the critical question returns to whether or not prosecutors could prove specific intent on Trump’s part for the more serious charges. Proving a state of guilty mind — mens rea — would be the crux of any actual prosecution based on the Mar-a-Lago documents. What was Trump thinking at the time, in other words, did he have specific intent to injure the United States or to obstruct some investigation he would have had to have known about? Without knowing the exact nature of the documents this is a tough prediction but even with the documents on display in front of us proving to a court’s satisfaction what Trump wanted to do by keeping the documents would require coworkers and colleagues to testify to what Trump himself had said at the time, and that is unlikely to happen. It is thus unlikely based on what we know at present that Trump would go to jail for any of this.

    Take for example the charges of tax evasion now levied again the Trump Organization (i.e., not Trump personally and not part of the Mar-a-Lago case.) Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, as part of a plea deal, will testify against the Organization but not Trump himself as to why the Organization paid certain compensation in the form of things like school tuitions, cars, and the like, all outside the tax system. It will be a bad day for the Organization but loyal to the end, Weisselberg will not testify as to his boss’ mens rea. It is equally unclear who would be both competent and willing to do so against President of the United States Trump. Blue Check enthusiasm aside, he won’t go to jail over this.

    The final questions are probably the most important: DOJ knows what the law says. If knowing the chances of a serious conviction are slight, why would the Justice Department take the Mar-a-Lago case to court? Then again, if knowing the chances for a serious conviction are slight, why would the FBI execute a high-profile search warrant in the first place? To gather evidence unlikely ever to be used? No one is above the law, but that includes politics not trumping clean jurisprudence as well.

    And then what? If Garland successfully navigates the politics, if he proves his case in court, and if he secures some sort of conviction against Trump which withstands the inevitable appeal, then what? Trump’s Mar-a-Lago “crimes” are relatively minor. Could Garland call Trump having to do some sort of community service during the 2024 campaign a win? Pay a fine? It seems petty. It sure seems Trump wins politically big-picture whether he wins or loses at Mar-a-Lago. If you were Merrick Garland, what would you do?

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    What Three Things Matter Most in the Trump Mar-a-Lago Case? Intent, Intent, Intent

    September 4, 2022 // 8 Comments »

    The three things which matter most in the Trump Mar-a-Lago case are intent, intent, and intent. Trump’s intent — not so much what he did with classified and/or national security documents but what he intended to happen based on his actions — will decide his innocence or guilt if the case ever comes to court. The documents themselves matter much less, and are almost a red herring.

    Wholly separate from January 6 and any other legal action against Trump, the Mar-a-Lago search warrant specifies three sections of law as justification, meaning any prosecution that comes out of the documents found in the search will likely be under one or more of these, a roadmap to the possible prosecution. On the face it seems Trump is pretty close to guilty, assuming at least some of the documents found were marked as classified and his arguments that as president he declassified them are not accepted. You can see an example of the hathotic glee over this here.

    But there is one more step, often overlooked in Twitteranalysis, to prove, and that is intent. The concept of intent is planted throughout American law and says in many cases (to include incitement, most tax evasion, and sedition) that you not only need to have committed some act like stirring up a crowd to violence, you had to have done it with a specific goal in mind, such as stirring them up to violence. It is intent which separates the what from the why. It’s the difference between a mistake, error, misstatement, and an actual crime. The action itself is often easy to prove, while the thought pattern, what was in someone’s head, the mental objective behind an action, much less so. Based on the laws cited on the search warrant, it is what matters most in Mar-a-Lago.

    The three laws mentioned in the Mar-a-Lago search warrant all specifically require proving intent — Trump’s mental objective in taking the classified document  — or its equivalent:

    18 U.S.C. §§ 793, “Gathering, transmitting or losing defense information” says (emphasis added) “Whoever, for the purpose of obtaining information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the United States, or to the advantage of any foreign nation…” Intent is mentioned repeatedly throughout the law, sometimes restated as purpose, reason,  and the like. This law is part of the infamous Espionage Act of 1917. Parts of the Espionage Act also includes a gross negligence standard, meaning a prosecutor does not have to prove specific intent in all cases.

    18 U.S.C. §§ 2071, “Concealment, removal, or mutilation generally of an record…” says that the act must be (emphasis added) “willful and unlawful,” a standard likely of general intent. This statute also states anyone who violates it should be disqualified from holding public office, but while the issue would likely get litigated in court, legal scholars broadly believe it couldn’t be used to stop Trump from running for president again in 2024. Only Article II of the Constitution can prescribe the requirements to run for president.

    18 U.S.C. §§ 1519, The “anti-shredding provision” imposes criminal penalties on anyone who (emphasis added) “knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsifies, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation.”

    Intent as we’re (and Trump) is concerned about almost always means specific intent, as opposed to general intent. General intent means the prosecution must prove only that the accused meant to do an act prohibited by law. Whether the defendant intended the act’s result is irrelevant. Specific intent means the accused intentionally committed an act and intended to cause a particular result, a wrongful purpose, when committing that act (U.S. v. Blair.) Merely knowing a result is likely isn’t the same as specifically intending to bring it about. (Thornton v. State.) Note that none of the laws mentioned as possible violations require the documents in question to be classified, though it would be hard to imagine prosecutors could prove something not classified could rise to the level of “injuring the United States.”

    In Trump’s case, based on what we know publicly, intent might play out as follows. On the first charge, the Espionage Act, prosecutors would need to show he kept classified and/or other national security information at Mar-a-Lago with the intent to cause injury to the United States. Similar for the third charge, where prosecutors would need to show he kept classified information and/or other national security info at Mar-a-Lago with the intent to impede or obstruct an investigation. The second charge seems more geared toward general intent, that Trump kept classified and/or other national security info at Mar-a-Lago knowing it was wrong without prescribing an outcome (actus reus), such as injury to the U.S. or obstructing an investigation. All easy to say, but hard to prove in court.

    Much of this is over-looked by the Twitteranalysists, who are like Southern Baptists and Satan, assuming the worst always about Trump’s intent to the point where they need not comment. For example, one Blue Check wrote “Will Donald Trump finally face something approximating justice for his five decades or more of apparent and aggressive lawlessness, culminating in a criminal presidency and an attempted coup, with the possibility of treason and criminal espionage? Will the American people finally be rid of this meddlesome would be tyrant-king with millions of followers, leader of a neofascist movement that is literally threatening to uproot and destroy American democracy?”

    Hyperbole aside, the critical question returns to whether or not prosecutors could prove specific intent on Trump’s part for the more serious charges, one and three above. Proving a state of guilty mind — mens rea — would be the crux of any actual prosecution based on the Mar-a-Lago documents. What was Trump thinking at the time, in other words, did he have specific intent to injure the United States (charge one) or to obstruct some investigation (charge three)? Without knowing the exact nature of the documents this is a tough task but even with the documents on display in front of us proving to a court’s satisfaction what Trump wanted to do by keeping the documents would require coworkers and colleagues to testify to what Trump himself had said at the time, and that is unlikely to happen. It is thus unlikely based on what we know at present that Trump would go to jail for any of this.

    Take for example the charges of tax evasion now levied again the Trump Organization (i.e., not Trump personally and not part of the Mar-a-Lago case.) Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg as part of a plea deal will agree to testify against the Organization but not Trump himself as to why the Organization paid certain compensation in the form of things like school tuitions, cars, and the like, all outside the tax system. It will be a bad day for the Organization but loyal to the end, Weisselberg will not testify as to his boss’ mens rea. It is equally unclear who would be both competent and willing to do so against President of the United States Trump. Blue Check enthusiasm aside, he won’t go to jail over this.

    The final questions are probably the most important: DOJ knows what the law says. If knowing the chances of a serious conviction are slight, why would the Justice Department take the Mar-a-Lago case to court? If knowing the chances for a serious conviction are slight, why would the FBI execute a high-profile search warrant in the first place? To gather evidence unlikely ever to be used? No one is above the law, but that includes politics not trumping clean jurisprudence as well. The justice system cannot replace the electoral system in choosing the next president.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Five Stages of Mar-a-Lago Grief

    August 20, 2022 // 10 Comments »

    Another week, another silver bullet missing Donald Trump. The endless roll of waves of crimes, accusations, near-indictments, and just bad words slandered away which we had all endured for the past four years happened again. We went from Trump has classified material under lock and key at Mar-a-Lago to a group of people paying $1800 to fly a banner reading “ha ha ha ha” over the resort to mock a Trump staying 3000 miles away in New York. On cue the regulars on MSNBC and CNN brought out their running dog former CIA and FBI officers to tell us tick tock, the walls are closing in, this time it will stick, Trump is going down, he’ll be in jail before he runs again for office. If we can’t stop him with the electoral system we’ll use the judicial system. This. Is. The. One.

    Except it isn’t. The offense itself — some variant of mishandling of official materials — is muddled from the git-go by the former president’s former ability to declassify anything, a power he claimed he already used before he left the White House to magically spay the documents. An Espionage Act prosecution is a non-starter, requiring as it does the showing of intent to harm the United States. It seems the documents, however classified and/or sensitive they are, were securely stored at Mar-a-Lago and the risk of exposure was very minimal. The FBI nonetheless threw the kitchen sink at Benedict Donald with a full-on raid, to enforce the Presidential Records Act, a law that actually has no prescribed penalty associated with it. Given the presumed age of some of the documents and non-impact, it was sort of like not returning a semi-important library book.

    The story will drag on a while, buoyed by leaks supposedly telling us politically salacious details about the secret documents (the single handwritten doc stored by Trump will likely take on lore akin to the grassy knoll for Trump conspiracists) but in reality “Mar-a-Lago-gate” is fast on its way to closing, joining Russiagate, Ukrainegate, Stormygate, January6gate, and all the others off to the side of history. It is close enough to being a dead story that it’s worth helping our progressive friends through the five stages of grief — Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance — that accompany something once so important passing. RIP.

    Denial:  Are we really doing this all again? There is no way tRump is not guilty of something. There is no way way the Orange Man can finish his term without jail time. Mueller laid out a roadmap to post-term prosecution. Wait until we see his taxes. January 6 had to have been sedition or treason or truancy. It could not have been sort of a violent but potently nothing, amiright? OK, fine, now that he is no longer protected as president and is a regular citizen again the gloves are off and he is going to jail. There is no way Trump is going to run again unless he campaigns from prison. You gonna ignore (checks notes for name) Cassidy Hutchison? Whatta you mean Georgia still hasn’t filed an indictment for election fraud, it’s been how many years? Wasn’t his grabbing the wheel from the Secret Service driver on J6 enough? What about that we call it J6 now? We were so close with the Emoluments Clause, and then the DC hotel business. The walls have to be closing in. Dig up Ivana, her coffin is probably full of purloined documents! Repeat after me: “I know we’ve said it many times before, but this time…”

    Anger: Mueller time should have worked but he wimped out! I paid $29.95 on eBay for a Mueller bobble head doll and you’re telling me the guy had nothing at all, not a pair of twos to play? Sanctimony (“Nobody is above the law, you know”) runs inverse to memory (“But her emails!”) in the poli-grieving process. If you’re gonna take a shot at the king you better not miss. And Garland has been putting in a lot of range time. I Googled “RICO” and per Wikipedia this has to work unless the DOJ is in on it, too.

    Bargaining: So Dotard had top secret documents, probably was going to sell them to the Russkies, so he’s guilty under the Espionage Act which carries the maximum penalty of death, like the Rosenberg’s or someone else, this is it, the silver bullet! What the hell is wrong, there were hundreds of peeResident Brown Shirts at the Capitol, can’t you idiots get one of them to flip and accuse Trump? What about the Alfa Bank and the Yota smartphones, the hotel deal, what about the pee tape for gosh sakes! You made us believe there was a pee tape and this whole Trump thing was going to be over before it ever really began. Where is the pee tape, we were promised a pee tape. And a hero, we want a hero and all you gave us was Robert Mueller, Michael Avenatti, Michael Cohen, Adam Schiff, Dr. Fauci (optional), Liz Cheney, and now Merrick “Milquetoast” Garland. Somebody do something to fix all this and we promise never to use the expressions “Period. Full Stop. End of story” or “Let that sink in” or “I’ll just leave this here” or “methinks” again on Twitter.

    Depression: Yea, that Joe Biden, what a guy, woo hoo. Yes, I guess we all lost our minds again, this time over what is probably “presidential memorabilia,” stuff that would have ended up anyway in Trump’s presidential library on “indefinite loan from the National Archives” if Trump had just gone through channels like Obama and Bush.

    Acceptance: OK, well, Russiagate didn’t work. Trump doing something naughty with the Ukraine didn’t end in an impeachment conviction. Michael Avenatti is in jail. The deal with Stormy Daniels and the other Barbies might have been sleazy but it was not criminal. And his 700 sexual assaults! So, alright, nobody could make a  indictment out of all that fuss over security clearances for Don and Eric. The Southern District of New York could not find something to charge Trumpkins with vis-vis property taxes or valuation stuff no one really understood, and the various walls never closed in. Maybe Trump will be forced to release his taxes if he runs again, there’s a bright side, gotta be something in those taxes, right? I mean, who takes the Fifth except guilty people, the Orange Man himself said that when he was talking about Hillary but it applies to him and the Trump crime family.

    The family, that’s right, that’s his Achilles Heel! Ivanka had some sort of sweetheart deal with China or something even before Hunter Biden to trademark her fashion things, and Jared sold NYC property too cheaply, and Don Jr., had his hand in some golf course thing I think I remember, in Sweden or maybe Scotland. And didn’t Trump flush secret documents down the White House pooper, that was wrong, right? There is still time for Trump’s accountant to flip and tell us all, got to be some indictable stuff in those books, eh? Or maybe Michael Cohen, he has a another book coming out, that will likely cement his role as Fredo and send tRump to the slammer. I hope his cellmate is ironically named Tiny. And Merrick Garland is not really done with the documents, is he? I mean, he hasn’t indicted Trump for anything over them yet — yet — but it could be just nine dimensional chess with Garland waiting for the exact right moment to bring in something from the Articles of Confederation or the Stamp Act showing Trump is guilty. He’s gotta be guilty of something. Right? We still believe.

    Maybe next time.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Democracy, Trump

    Classified Right Outta Mar-a-Lago

    August 17, 2022 // 9 Comments »

    What is a classified document? Trump seems to have lots of them, and the FBI sure wants them back.

    In the wake of my first book critical of the State Department’s Iraq Reconstruction program, Diplomatic Security began a deep dive into my life in an attempt to find something over which to prosecute me. A colleague inadvertently passed on a bit of personnel gossip via his official email to my Yahoo! account, and the chase was on.

    Diplomatic Security claimed I was in possession of “classified” material at home and referred my case to the Justice Department. The email in question was simply labeled “For Official Use Only,” (FOUO) a standard tag then automatically applied to all email sent by State in the unclassified system (a wholly separate email system existed for true classified — Confidential, Secret, Top Secret — messages.) FOUO was a non-standard “classification” made up by State and was being used to pin me against the wall and force me to resign under threat of prosecution. Luckily someone familiar with classification law at the Department of Justice prevailed, and I was not charged. The so-called secret in the email, that a mutual friend thought someone’s boss was a jerk, stays safe with me to this day.

    The classification system for national security documents, while designed to identify documents to protect from people without the proper clearances, including foreign intelligence officers, has been often misused over the decades. It is very easy to slap a classified label on a document — persons using the State Department’s classified email system must classify what they write as either Confidential, Secret or Top Secret. If the document does not fit those categories it does not belong on the “class system” to begin with, though this is often misused as well. State workers who use the class system almost exclusively for their work might pass on a lunch invitation via the same system to avoid jumping from computer to computer.

    Many documents correctly classified on creation, such as a military convoy movement time, lose their secretness within a few hours after everyone sees the convoy rumbling down the road. The classified bit was knowing in advance the convoy would depart a certain place at a certain time and after that passed, meh. Lastly, documents are often over classified for ego purposes, the sender feeling more important if his pet project is labeled Secret as opposed to FOUO or simply left unclassified. That all said, some documents deserve their classification and more, particularly those which reveal sources and methods, say the name of our agent deep inside Putin’s inner circle. Stuff like that is rarely ever even put into writing; if the president wants to know he is usually orally briefed.

    Classification can also be misused in other ways, say to “hide” a document from future Freedom of Information Act searches and delay its release. Important people like to think they do important things and rightly or wrongly most of what the president or the Secretary of State touches ends up classified at some level. Over classification thus plagues the government, slowing down the legitimate transfer of information.

    Except for the president, once classified it is very hard to unclassify or downgrade a document not subject to automatic declassification. Anyone can create a classified document by slapping the word Secret on it, but very few people can later take that document and change it to unclassified. The assumption is the original classifier was correct. The biggest exception of them all is the president himself, who holds the authority to change or declassify documents. This is not done willy-nilly; there is a process to follow which leaves a decision trail and usually includes some sort of consultation with the organization (State, CIA, DOD) which originated the document. The president cannot wave his hand over a storage unit of banker’s boxes and declassify the lot. Also, the president can unilaterally authorize officials from a foreign government to receive classified national security information. It is a very broad mandate, stemming from the fact that the entire classification system is based on Executive Orders more than law. Of course there are also the questions of  “legal” and “sensible” that apply to all presidential actions but the latter is up to the voters, not the FBI, to decide.

    Classified documents are supposed to be stored in classified containers (safes) or spaces (up to bank-like vaults.) All these rules about classified documents are supposedly taught to you as part of being issued a security clearance, though in practice people like the president or SecState have staffers who take care of producing, storing, and disposing of classified. If a breach occurs, the first question is not nyah nyah nyah you got caught! but what level of document was exposed and how was it exposed. Did you inadvertently leave it out on your desk instead of putting it into a safe inside the guarded embassy during lunch, or did you intentionally publish it to your Instagram? Was it an out-of-date means-little document or a current list of human assets in Ukraine? How much damage was done and what was the intent? Because there’s classified, and then there’s classified, bubby. Those maximum penalties bandied about by the media would typically require a significant exposure with intent to do harm.

    People inside government and the military commit security violations all the time, almost all minor and inadvertent. Punishments can be as mild as being told not to do it again, up to loss of pay and forced time off to actual loss of job and even prison. But you gotta work at it to go much further than your own boss and the security team.

    We don’t know exactly what documents were found at Mar-a-Lago, and we don’t know what classification they individually held or how they were stored. We do know Trump as president had the authority to declassify any of them, something which will figure into any defense he has to make. We also know the type of document and what it contains matter a lot in any penalty which may follow the FBI raid. We also know what Trump did with the documents is critical. If they never left a dark, locked basement storage area at Mar-a-Lago and were likely not reviewed by anyone since leaving the White House, punishment will be unlikely unless politics interferes.

    Since millions of government employees have at one point handled and mishandled classified, there is plenty of precedent out there on action and punishment. For example, one of the most well-known cases is Sandy Berger, former national security adviser to President Bill Clinton, who stole classified documents from a secure reading room at the National Archives. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to a misdemeanor charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material (via the Espionage Act, the same charge the media says Trump may face) and was sentenced to probation, community service, and a fine. General David Petraeus received only probation for intentionally sending highly classified military documents via commercial email to his lover/biographer.

    Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton maintained an unsecured private email server which processed classified material on a daily basis. Her server held at least 110 known messages containing classified information, including e-mail chains classified at the Top Secret/Special Access Program level, the highest level of civilian classification, that included the names of CIA and NSA employees. The FBI found classified intelligence improperly stored and transmitted on Clinton’s server “was compromised by unauthorized individuals, to include foreign governments or intelligence services, via cyber intrusion or other means.” Yet Clinton was not prosecuted nor penalized. Any prosecution of Trump would need to address that precedent.

    All this needs to be kept in mind when evaluating the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago. The FBI, its reputation already in tatters post-Russiagate, might also have kept it in mind before deciding to stage another likely losing full-on assault against Trump.

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Trump