Trump Indictment Watch

Special Counsel Jack Smith is wrapping up his investigation of former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents after he left office. Smith met with Trump’s lawyers on Monday, and he has reconvened a Florida grand jury after a hiatus. Official D.C. buzzes with speculation that an indictment is imminent, likely by the end of this week.

The Democrats intended to indict Trump over keeping classified documents at his home at Mar-A-Lago. But this fell through when it turned out that Joe Biden had vastly more documents, including classified documents, at multiple locations, and Mike Pence had some, too. So many have speculated that Smith’s focus has shifted to obstruction of justice. I assume the special prosecutor counsel will try to distinguish Trump’s case from Biden’s, because Biden promptly returned his documents to the National Archives when news of them hit the press, while Trump, for no apparent reason, held on to his until the FBI finally raided his house.

The subtext here is overclassification. Vast numbers of documents, most of which have little or no significance, are classified by the federal bureaucracy. People naturally assume that classified documents are secret in some meaningful sense, but that is not true. Politicians like Trump, Biden and Pence always take boxes of files with them when they leave office, usually to work on their memoirs. Inevitably some of those documents are classified.

It is remotely possible that some of the files Trump took with him have real national security importance, but most likely, this whole situation is much ado about nothing.

The Democrats are trying to thread the needle here. They want to bring Trump down, but they also want him to be the Republican nominee in 2024. So they want to wound him, but not kill him. Not until November 2024. I think they assume that the multiple criminal prosecutions of Trump–I believe two more are still to come–will not hurt him much politically, but rather will inflame his supporters.

That is probably true, although Trump may well have been convicted in New York and sentenced to prison by next summer. But more important, it was Trump’s poor judgment that opened the door to these prosecutions. His payoff to Stormy Daniels was legal, and the New York state prosecution arising out of that payment is flimsy at best. But who got Trump into the mess of filing false corporate documents that concealed a payoff to a porn performer? Trump did. That is not something to be proud of.

Similarly, Smith’s classified document prosecution is more or less a joke. Given that Hillary Clinton kept actually secret documents–not historical files, but documents that were critical to real time foreign policy–on an illegal, off the books server in her house, that was easily subject to Russian or Chinese penetration, and was not prosecuted for it, the current prosecution of Trump obviously exemplifies the dual-track system of justice that we have in this country. Republicans are prosecuted, Democrats are not.

But why is Trump in this fix? Only because of his own poor judgment. If he had just given the boxes back to the National Archives when they asked for them, as Joe Biden did, none of this would have happened. The criminal prosecutions of Trump are thin if not entirely baseless, and they obviously are politically motivated. Nevertheless, they illustrate why Trump should not again be president.

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