When candidate Donald Trump was running for president against Hilary Clinton, he stated clearly and emphatically the importance of handling classified government documents securely so that they would not get into the hands of the wrong people. This was part of his campaign message: Clinton had been careless with classified information by using a private email server while serving as secretary of state.
“This was not just extreme carelessness with classified materials,” he said on the campaign trail, “this is calculated, deliberate, premeditated, misconduct” that “disqualifies” Clinton from running for president.
“You go to jail for that,” said Trump, after which the crowds would chant, “Lock her up.”
“In my administration,” Trump said, “I’m going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information.”
Trump seems always ready to enforce the laws against others while thinking the same laws don’t apply to him.
It has been over a year since Trump removed boxes of classified documents from the White House to his home in Florida and months since the National Archives and Records Administration have sought their return. They were able to secure 15 boxes of these materials in February and received assurances from Trump’s attorney that he had no other classified materials in his home. That turned out to be false and the Justice Department has been negotiating with Trump for the rest of the documents ever since. Trump even received a grand jury subpoena demanding that the other documents be returned. He refused and forced the Justice Department to ask the FBI to secure them.
So what was Trump planning to do with all of these classified documents?
Of course, anyone else would have been arrested months ago. But, once again, Trump has received special treatment – not equal treatment – under the law. Trump was given months to return the documents, without penalty, and he did not. To claim persecution now after a judge approved a search warrant for the documents is a joke. But his enablers are there for the rescue. I imagine that if this were Hillary Clinton and not their man, the Republican narrative about the raid on Mar-a-Lago would be very different.
After getting elected president in 2018, Trump signed a bill that upgraded the crime of moving classified government documents from a misdemeanor to a felony. Again, this was in response to Clinton’s private email server. With the upgrade, a person found guilty of mishandling classified documents could face up to five years in prison.
Multiple White House staff working for Trump, according to New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman, have spoke of finding wads of paper clogging White House toilets. If true, this is also illegal. Presidential documents belong to the government, not the president.
The president does not get to decide what to keep or flush.
Trump says that former presidents have done the same by moving documents into their presidential libraries. In fact, documents moved to presidential libraries are managed by the National Archives and Records Administration, not the former presidents or their staffs. In the wake of the raid, NARA released a clarifying statement saying all previous presidents have followed the law on this matter.
Efforts by Fox News and other right-wing entities to protect Trump after being caught breaking the law are extraordinary. They are Trump’s enablers who believe he is above the law. As stated by Paul Waldman in The Washington Post, Trump has to “sell a fantasy of collective persecution” in order to protect himself and keep his supporters. Trump’s enablers “know their audience, and they’re very good at identifying what that audience needs to hear, then repeating it over and over.”
All of this misinformation spread by the right-wing media has led to threats and violence against the FBI and Justice Department officials by Trump supporters. It appears that Trump and his supporters are only pro-police when the police are shooting unarmed Black men. How dare they go after their guy as he flaunts the law.
For Trump, it appears that what he said about classified documents, being pro-police, and all that stuff about law and order apply to other people, not him.
Another example of this is when Trump said that taking the Fifth Amendment was like an admission of wrongdoing.
“If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Trump said at a rally in Iowa in 2016.
“It’s a terrible thing for a president to take the Fifth Amendment,” Trump said referring to President Bill Clinton in 1998.
“The mob takes the Fifth,” Trump said in 2018.
Yet, just last week, Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 440 times, according to NBC News, during a deposition by lawyers from the New York Attorney General’s Office looking into the Trump Organization’s taxes and other questionable business dealings.
Trump is like the child who never has to face consequences for inappropriate behavior. It is always someone else’s fault while he plays the victim. His special treatment has emboldened him to act out however he wants and then dare someone to do something about it.
What Trump said about Clinton applies to himself: “This was not just extreme carelessness with classified materials. This is calculated, deliberate, premeditated, misconduct. You go to jail for that.”
Tom Zirpoli is the Laurence J. Adams Distinguished Chair in Special Education Emeritus at McDaniel College. He writes from Westminster. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.