This year has seen the first-ever indictment of a former U.S. President, his three subsequent indictments, the first-ever indictment of a sitting president’s son, and the first trial of former crypto billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried.
Our feeds and headlines are crammed with blockbuster legal proceedings, and Cryptoversal’s American Justice collection is sealing the most consequential filings into the amber of the blockchain to provide a curated selection of decentralized reference materials.
Minting a criminal indictment against SBF feels like poetic justice, while minting the Trump indictments feels like insurance against these documents being disappeared into the ether during an apocalyptic future.
This week, I have a few personal thoughts about the dumbest of Trump’s four (so far) criminal cases, the alleged mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort. To fully appreciate the depth of Trump’s self-own, I’d like to revisit the 2016 presidential election, when then-candidate Trump made the mishandling of classified documents a central issue of his campaign.
Spoiler alert: At the time, Trump claimed to be against the mishandling of classified documents and was rewarded for that brave stance with [checks notes] being elected leader of the free world. This time around, Trump is all about the mishandling of classified documents and is walking away with the Republican presidential nomination.
Those prone to election PTSD may want to skip ahead.
Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hilary Clinton, as Secretary of State, had conducted government business through a private email server. At least one prior Secretary of State, Colin Powell, had also used a personal email account, as had additional members of the Bush- and Obama-era State Departments. All of Foggy Bottom seems to have considered the department’s email system to be outdated, its security protocols to be unnecessarily cumbersome, and the open secret of a system-bypass to be a mercy.
The protocol exploit wasn’t illegal or particularly unusual but represented the first of four bad choices that ultimately doomed Clinton’s electoral prospects when the email loophole came under the intense scrutiny of a presidential bid.
Her second bad choice was to send and receive personal emails from the same account she used for her Secretary of State communications. As anyone who has had to juggle multiple email addresses can attest, a mash of business and personal correspondence may seem convenient in the short term, but it can quickly devolve into a privacy, access, and organizational nightmare.
When Secretary Clinton left office, all emails sent or received in her official capacity, whether on a State Department server or her own basement-based box, had to be turned over to the National Archives, the agency charged with preserving historic documents for posterity—yes, even the electronic ones.
In preparing her submission for the archives, Clinton was entitled to exclude emails outside the scope of her official duties. Since she’d intermingled so many thousands of personal emails into her account, filtering them all out became a daunting chore. Clinton ended up employing search terms and a team of third-party reviewers, but Clinton failed to keep backup files of the deleted emails. This was the third of her four bad choices.
I’m using “bad choices,” by the way, to describe actions that weren’t illegal, unethical, or particularly unusual. Each choice can be understood as careless or ill-advised without ascribing nefarious motives. But even options that seem like good ideas at the time can have negative consequences. As the saying goes, for want of a nail, a presidency was lost.
The private server and deleted emails hinted at a possible conspiracy and coverup, and Clinton had no receipts to counter suspicions that she’d selectively erased self-critical or incriminating documents in advance of her presidential run. The possibility arose that classified material may have been handled insecurely, the FBI got involved, and a minor archival snafu blew up into a major scandal that dominated the news cycles for crucial months of the campaign.
Clinton made public assurances that she’d never sent or received classified material from an insecure email account. When classified materials subsequently surfaced among her emails, her credibility took a fatal hit.
Managing classified documents is hard. Documents can be classified by a hodgepodge of government agencies, sometimes retroactively. Documents may lack classification markings or may become separated from the folders or contextual files that help identify what, when, and how they might be classified. Information doesn’t necessarily announce itself as classified when it drops into an email inbox. And the folks with access aren’t all highly trained super-spies—they’re also political appointees or some idiot who managed to stumble to victory in an election.
I personally wouldn’t feel safe in stating unequivocally that no classified documents are hiding among my correspondence, and I’ve never even served in the Federal government.
While Clinton was Secretary of State, the U.S. military was operating a “secret” drone program on foreign battlefields. The program could not be officially confirmed for diplomatic reasons, but its operations were impossible to hide from the media. The evidence was literally falling from the sky! In such an environment, a New York Times article about the drone program, innocently forwarded by a colleague, might become a top-secret classified document if it implied disclosure of the drone program by a government official.
Overlooked classified documents turn up in the working papers of former government officials all the time. Earlier this year, classified documents were found in former Vice President Mike Pence’s files as well as in papers dating back to Joe Biden’s time in the Senate.
When classified docs are surfaced, it’s usually no big deal, as long as the former official promptly reports the lapse, fully cooperates with the officers responsible for securing the documents, and hasn’t previously made a high-profile pledge that’s now been proven false.
In the process of recovering tranches of deleted emails, the FBI found small amounts of classified material that had been insecurely stored on a computer in Clinton’s basement, on multiple mobile phones, and on a laptop owned by a staff member’s spouse.
Trump pounced on Clinton’s lapses, presenting a tough-on-crime position with regards to classified document retention. Even after Clinton was exonerated of deliberate wrongdoing or indictable crimes, Trump framed the mishandling of documents as disqualifying, damaging to national security, treasonous, or worse. On the campaign trail, Trump advocated for greater accountability and knee-jerk statutory enforcement, rallying his followers with frequent chants of “Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!”
But in this case, the law-and-order candidate doth protest too much.
After his own term in office, as an outgoing government official with aspirations for returning to power, Trump included boxes of classified materials among the personal belongings he shipped to the semi-private Florida resort that was to become his primary residence. There, he stored the highly sensitive documents in a variety of insecure locations, including a bathroom.
Unlike Clinton, when Trump was asked to return all classified materials to the National Archives, he refused to cooperate.
Unlike Clinton, Trump falsely claimed government documents as his own personal property.
Unlike Clinton, Trump falsely claimed that he’d declassified documents during his presidency that have never been declassified.
Unlike Clinton, Trump is alleged to have disclosed classified material to resort guests as a flex.
Unlike Clinton, Trump is alleged to have knowingly ordered the destruction of video evidence related to the improper handling of classified documents.
Unlike Clinton, Trump is alleged to have directed his attorneys to make false certifications to the government on his behalf that no further documents remained in his possession.
Those are not just bad choices. Those are crimes, criminal conspiracies, and cover-up attempts.
And as far as I can tell, he’s not even been charged for the disturbing lack of toilet paper among all those boxes of purportedly classified bathroom reading material.
On June 8, 2023, a historic 37-count indictment was filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida, laying out the government’s case against former President Donald J. Trump and his valet, Waltine Nauta.
On July 27, 2023, a superseding indictment added additional obstruction charges and a third defendant, Carlos De Oliveira, a Mar-a-Lago property manager who faces one count of altering, destroying, mutilating, or concealing an object; one count of corruptly altering, destroying, mutilating or concealing a document, record or other object; and one count of making false statements and representations during a voluntary interview with federal investigators.
Defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law, but I urge you to read these indictments for yourself and consider the strength of evidence that Special Counsel Jack Smith will be presenting to a jury in 2024. Beyond the spin and outside any bubbles of misinformation, these legal filings are the source documents allowing you to do your own research.
The Mar-a-Lago classified documents indictment can be found in the American Justice subcollection of PageDao’s Readme literary collectibles.