Down a Mouse Hole with Bill Clinton’s Cat, Socks

When I first read this WaPo article yesterday, I was struck by two things: first, the revelation that when Judicial Watch’s Tom Fitton appeared before a Jack Smith grand jury early this year, he was asked both about his central role in convincing Donald Trump he could rely on a case he, Fitton, lost, to justify stealing thousands of government documents (that’s the testimony we knew about), but also his role in January 6.

Fitton, who appeared before the grand jury and was questioned about his role in both the Mar-a-Lago documents case and the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, acknowledged he gave the advice to Trump but declined to discuss the details of their conversations.

I wasn’t aware that Fitton had much of a role in January 6.

I was also shocked that, in the spite of the grave damage Fitton’s crackpot advice had already done to Donald Trump’s future, he was nevertheless permitted to be there with the accused felon Monday night, dining on what was undoubtedly overcooked filet mignon, as Trump and his supporters discussed his plans for beating the rap.

In an interview Wednesday, Fitton said he dined with Trump on Monday night at his club, eating filet mignon with the former president one day before his first court appearance on the document charges. “I saw him last night; he’s in a good mood. He’s serious and ready to fight under the law.”

On top of the sheer stupidity of letting Fitton anywhere close to Trump in the wake of his indictment, Fitton’s presence presumably would breach any privilege claim lawyers present could make in the future.

The report that Fitton has been chatting with Trump this week explains some of the insanely stupid things Trump has said on his failing social media site, not to mention Trump’s deceit in claiming he would see everything presented to the grand jury, much less have already seen it before any protective order is signed and discovery is provided.

By invoking Clinton’s Socks, his term for Fitton’s failed lawsuit, Trump was falsely claiming to have inside knowledge of something that would have legal merit, presumably so his followers would believe Trump had some viable defense (that they would send him money to fund).

I was not, however, surprised by the sheer stupidity of the opinions Fitton expressed to WaPo.

“I think what is lacking is the lawyers saying, ‘I took this to be obstruction,’” said Fitton. “Where is the conspiracy? I don’t understand any of it. I think this is a trap. They had no business asking for the records … and they’ve manufactured an obstruction charge out of that. There are core constitutional issues that the indictment avoids, and the obstruction charge seems weak to me.”

Several other Trump advisers blamed Fitton for convincing Trump that he could keep the documents and repeatedly mentioning the “Clinton socks case” — a reference to tapes Bill Clinton stored in his sock drawer of his secret interviews with historian Taylor Branch that served as the basis of Branch’s 2009 book documenting the Clinton presidency.

Judicial Watch lost a lawsuit in 2012 that demanded the audio recordings be designated as presidential records and that the National Archives take custody of the recordings. A court opinion issued at the time stated that there was no legal mechanism for the Archives to force Clinton to turn over the recordings.

For his part, Fitton said Trump’s lawyers “should have been more aggressive in fighting the subpoenas and fighting for Trump.”

It’s not just that Fitton was allowed to share these legally incorrect opinions with Trump. It’s that he badly misunderstands how his own advice about the “Clinton Socks” case might be viewed as an agreement with Trump to enter into a conspiracy to withhold classified documents.

Remember, after Trump fucked up releasing the Crossfire Hurricane documents, Fitton went after them himself, only to reveal that the collection was just one dumbass binder.

Anyway, after puzzling through what role Tom Fitton might have had on January 6, I started reading through a motion to compel that Ruby Freeman’s attorneys served on pardoned felon Bernie Kerik last week. Bernie was the guy who mailed a key strategy document to Mark Meadows on December 28, 2020. In addition to making clear that Bernie was sharing the document to “move legislators,” not win court cases, it included exhibits laying out the claims about Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss that Rudy Giuliani would subsequently make publicly — that Freeman counted suitcases of votes multiple times after kicking out poll watchers, using a false claim of a water main break as the excuse — claims that Freeman alleges amount to defamation.

To be clear: those claims about Freeman are false, as is the claim she was arrested for her actions. Thus the lawsuit.

Freeman’s lawyers filed a motion to compel because when Kerik first responded to their subpoena last year, his attorney — Tim Parlatore — simply provided a link to the stuff that Kerik had provided to the January 6 Committee. Since then, Freeman’s lawyers argue, Rudy has disclaimed any work privilege claim over materials prepared for legislatures, as opposed to lawsuits. But when Freeman’s lawyers have gone back to Kerik to get the materials he withheld from J6C under a work product privilege claim that (they argue) Rudy has since waived, Parlatore explained there had been a “technical glitch” that creates some difficulties in consulting with Rudy’s attorney on the issue.

Relations between Parlatore and Freeman’s team have been sour for some time. Around the same time in December when Parlatore was telling a DC grand jury that he had done a diligent search of Bedminster — where at least two and probably a bunch of classified records have been sent, never to be seen again — he was telling Freeman’s team that Kerik didn’t have some documents that Freeman had obtained from other sources.

After Plaintiffs spent months negotiating with Mr. Kerik’s counsel and made more than a dozen unsuccessful attempts to effectuate personal service on Mr. Kerik,5 counsel for Mr. Kerik accepted service of the First Kerik Subpoena on November 14, 2022. (See Houghton-Larsen Decl. ¶ 4.) On November 21, 2022, Plaintiffs agreed to narrow the requests and provided examples of emails produced during discovery that were sent to Mr. Kerik but were not present in his production to the Select Committee. (See id. ¶ 5.) On December 21, 2022, Mr. Parlatore responded that “Mr. Kerik has looked and we do not seem to have any additional responsive documents to provide.” (See id. ¶ 6.) Mr. Kerik has never explained why he does “not seem to have” any of the example communications Plaintiffs provided to him, on which he was copied, and which have been produced by other parties.

By the time former Trump attorney Parlatore claimed a “technical glitch” was creating delays on June 7, the day before Trump was indicted, he also explained that, “there are other more pressing matters that have taken priority.”

The motion to compel includes fragments of both Rudy’s and Kerik’s March depositions in this case. In Kerik’s, Parlatore made a series of dickish responses to Freeman attorney Annie Houghton-Larsen’s questions that Parlatore deemed to ask for work product information, precisely the privilege claim that has since started to collapse.

In Rudy’s, there are a slew of hilarious responses showing how dissolute Rudy has gotten, such as when, struggling to come up with Sidney Powell’s name, he called her the Wicked Witch of the East.

Q. I’ll ask you about who was on it, but the team that was assembled at that point in time, is that the team that Ms. Bobb is referring to as the “Giuliani legal team”?

A. Correct.

Q. Now you can tell me, who was on this team?

A. It was myself, Jenna Ellis, Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, Boris Epshteyn, originally.

We added Christina after about two weeks, and we added — oh my goodness, of course, her name will escape me.

Come on guys, help me. The wicked witch of the east.

Q. It’s — really, in this forum, I’m interested in what you remember.

A. Oh, I remember who it is. I just can’t remember the name. I block it out.

Q. We can come back to it.

A. On purpose. Everybody knows who it is.

Q. We can come back to it.

Anyone else aside apart this —

A. Sidney.

Q. Sidney?

A. It was Sidney.

Q. Sidney who?

MR COSTELLO: How could you forget that?

Q. Are you referring to Sidney Powell?

A. Sidney Powell, yeah.

Both men, however, struggled when asked about this passage of the strategy document, showing who, on December 28, its author considered key members of their team (Freedom Caucus members make the list on the following page), both struggled to remember who some of the members were.

There was little doubt that BK was Kerik and both ultimately decided that BE was Epshteyn.

But both simply couldn’t imagine what close Boris associate “SB” might be. Here’s Kerik’s epic struggle with the question:

Q. Okay. This might help you. Can we please turn to page 6.

Okay. So about two-thirds down the page it says, “Key team members. Rudy Giuliani.”

And then, “BK.” I’m assuming that’s you.

A. That’s probably me.

Q. Okay. “KF.” Do you know who that is?

A. Katherine Friess.

Q. And then, “Media advisors. SB.” Who do you think that is?

A. No idea. Well, I went through this before.

THE WITNESS: Who did I do this with? J6?

MR. PARLATORE: Probably.

THE WITNESS: Yeah. Boris Epshteyn would have been the BE. SB, I have no idea what that  is.


Q. Okay.

Sadly, Rudy dodged the TF question altogether and the excerpt cut off before Kerik was quizzed about the same question.

So we will have to wait to learn whether Tom Fitton is the TF who did influencer outreach on the effort to steal the election.

But it might help to explain why he was still welcome in the Boris Epshteyn-led effort to pursue political grievance rather than a sound legal defense.

Republicans Demanded Independence for John Durham and Got Robert Hur and Jack Smith in the Bargain

Even before Trump’s Espionage Act indictment was made public, Trump was attempting to politicize his stolen documents prosecution by demanding — via a Truth Social post— a meeting with Merrick Garland, who is not overseeing the case. Virtually every journalist fell for Trump’s bait, reporting the demand without noting that Jack Smith is the prosecutor overseeing the investigation into Trump, not Merrick Garland.

Garland rightly refused the meeting.

Since then, paid propagandists have been chanting out “Joe Biden Merrick Garland Joe Biden Merrick Garland” talking points like wind-up toys, because repetition is how you get low-information Trump supporters and members of Congress to believe false claims.

This strand of propaganda has worked. The other day, WSJ’s Sadie Gurman, after reviewing how assiduously Merrick Garland remained out of the process, stated as fact that this is a political prosecution.

When a grand jury returned the first-ever federal indictment of a former president last week, Attorney General Merrick Garland made a point of suggesting he was nowhere near the team handling the case.

He strolled into Justice Department headquarters in downtown Washington with his deputy late Thursday afternoon amid intense speculation about charges against Donald Trump and told a Wall Street Journal reporter he had been out getting a Covid vaccine.


In keeping with that philosophy, Garland kept details of the indictment and its timing secret from Biden, who said Friday, “I have not spoken to him at all, and I am not going to speak with him.”

The attorney general also declined to meet with Trump’s lawyers, who requested a sit-down in the days leading up to the indictment, leaving the gathering instead to Smith and other Justice Department officials.


Yet Garland now presides over what may be the highest-profile political prosecution ever, which is certain to be a prominent factor in the 2024 election. [my emphasis]

Gurman also suggested that Garland somehow engaged in politics by letting Jack Smith unseal the indictment that was sealed to protect security, not to let Trump sow violence in a vacuum.

But Garland didn’t object to prosecutors asking a court to unseal the indictment on Friday, well before Trump’s Tuesday arraignment when it would normally be made public, a person familiar with the matter said.

Finally, Gurman immediately — and, possibly, falsely — suggested that Garland “faces a call” on whether DOJ should charge Hunter Biden.

Adding to the political overtones, Garland also faces a call on whether the Justice Department should file charges against Biden’s son, Hunter, who is under investigation related to his taxes and whether he made a false statement in connection with a gun purchase. Hunter Biden has said he acted legally and appropriately.

Garland only faces a call if he has to approve an indictment. If David Weiss chooses not to prosecute, Garland is not going to override the Trump-appointed US Attorney who has been retained to make this decision himself.

Since yesterday’s arraignment, the false claim that Joe Biden and Merrick Garland have pursued the prosecution of Biden’s rival has gotten crazier still, especially on Murdoch properties other than the one where Gurman invented a political prosecution where there is none. As Trump wailed about his plight at his club yesterday, for example, Fox’s chyron accused Biden of being a “wannabe dictator” because a process entirely insulated from Biden resulted in Trump’s arrest. (Natasha Korecki posted this screen cap.)

There’s something especially noxious about the degree to which actual journalists like Gurman are parroting this line (Jamison Fraser notes a similar example in polling coverage).

Donald Trump is being treated no differently than Biden himself, to say nothing of the targets of John Durham’s abusive four year investigation.

Consider how absurd it is that Trump, lashing out, promised to appoint “a real special ‘prosecutor'” to go after Biden and “the entire Biden crime family.”

The Biden Administration already did that, Bucko!!! It currently has two Trump appointed prosecutors, David Weiss and Robert Hur, conducting investigations into Biden’s son and Biden himself. You’re so inadequate you can’t even out-prosecute Biden than Biden himself is already doing!

Yet, in response to this tweet, almost no journalists noted that Joe Biden’s Administration already did that — retain or appoint two separate Trump-appointed prosecutors to investigate Biden himself.

And that’s a hint of what is affirmatively missing from the coverage of real journalists like Gurman.

It’s that Republicans, and Trump himself, have demanded what they’ve gotten with Merrick Garland’s distance from Jack Smith’s prosecution. Republicans, and Trump himself, have repeatedly demanded that Garland stay out of Weiss’ investigation. They even wailed that Biden was being treated specially after the discovery of classified documents at the Penn Biden Center, until it became clear a preliminary Special Counsel had been appointed within days, in Biden’s case, not months.

Most importantly, none of these Republicans wailing about Garland’s distance from the Jack Smith investigations (wailing because it demonstrates their claims that this is a political prosecution to be obvious bullshit) complained at all after John Durham used the independence Garland afforded him to engage in one after another instance of shocking prosecutorial abuse.

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain that Durham investigated for four years even though no crime predicated his investigation (a far worse abuse than Durham’s complaint that Crossfire Hurricane was opened as a Full rather than Preliminary investigation).

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain that Durham threatened witnesses and lawyers (and lawyers complained to Merrick Garland in real time; they didn’t wait until a target letter went out to try to excuse their own counterproductive legal advice).

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain that in both trials, first his lead prosecutor and then Durham himself, were caught scripting improbable or affirmatively misleading testimony from witnesses.

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain that Durham charged Michael Sussmann for coordinating with Hillary’s top staffers months before interviewing any of those staffers and discovering it wasn’t true.

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain that Durham charged Igor Danchenko relying, in significant part, on the rants Sergei Millian made on his Twitter feed, only to discover, months later, that Millian was unwilling to repeat the same claims at trial under oath.

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain that Durham prosecuted a man for making a literally true statement to the FBI.

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain when John Durham accused Sussmann and Danchenko anew of lying to the FBI after two juries told him he couldn’t prove that claim.

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain that John Durham fabricated a claim that even the Russians didn’t make against Hillary and used it as his excuse to continue his investigation for three more years.

Republicans, and Trump himself, did not complain when John Durham affirmatively misrepresented the YotaPhone white paper; instead, Trump used Durham’s misrepresentation to justify making death threats against Michael Sussmann.

Republicans, and Trump himself, knew how much independence Merrick Garland was giving Jack Smith, because Durham told them that he committed all that abuse and yet Garland let him continue unimpeded.

Finally, we want to thank you and your Office for permitting our inquiry to proceed independently and without interference as you assured the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee would be the case during your confirmation hearings to become Attorney General of the United States.

And long after it was clear that Garland had given Durham precisely the independence that Republicans, and Trump himself, had demanded, Trump is the one who forced the appointment of a Special Counsel by announcing his run six months ahead of his competitors. Trump took steps that led to someone completely independent investigating his suspected crimes, not Joe Biden, not Merrick Garland. And now he’s trying to pretend that he himself didn’t ensure someone independent would investigate his suspected crimes.

Jack Smith has been living by the rules Republicans demanded, and got, for John Durham.

I don’t expect Trump to care that Jack Smith has been operating under the same rules of independence that Garland gave Durham. Trump needs to claim this is political, to provide his boosters — and probably his own fragile ego — some explanation for this indictment other than that a grand jury of South Floridians determined there was probable cause he committed an unprecedented crime that made this country less safe. I expect Mike Davis to continue reeling out his knowingly false claims, Joe Biden Merrick Garland Joe Biden Merrick Garland. It’s what he is paid to do.

But journalists like Sadie Gurman should know better. Journalists like Sadie Gurman, after presenting proof that Jack Smith is operating with the same independence that John Durham did, owe their readers a description of what it means that this investigation has operated with independence. Journalists like Sadie Gurman should not be drawn in by attempts to delegitimize a prosecution only because Trump belatedly wants to change the rules he himself demanded.

Update: I’ve updated my stolen documents investigation resource page, with key documents, a bit of a timeline, all our posts on the case, plus other useful links (including to dockets of other 18 USC 793 cases).

Trump and Nauta’s Release Conditions

Going into yesterday’s arraignment, I believed the release conditions would be the only thing of note.

I was wrong. Alleged Trump co-conspirator Walt Nauta wasn’t even arraigned! It seems he may be having difficulty finding local counsel to add to his Trump-funded lawyer, Stan Woodward.

Still, the release conditions were newsworthy, but it took until Anna Bower wrote up her 27-hour wait for the 30-minute hearing before what happened became fully clear: on the summons, the government asked for no release conditions besides the order that neither man commit any more crimes (!!!), something Trump attorney Todd Blanche optimistically assured his client could do.

But then magistrate judge Jonathan Goodman imposed an additional one: a limited restriction on talking to witnesses.

Goodman had attempted to impose a no-contact rule, as well as prohibiting Trump from speaking to Nauta about the case. But Trump attorney Todd Blanche objected, noting that some of the witnesses are members of Trump’s personal detail.

[Prosecutor David] Harbach continues, the prosecution is not seeking a restriction requiring Trump to avoid contact with his co-defendant, witnesses, or victims.

Now Goodman is ready to make a ruling. As to Trump’s release, he agrees with the government’s recommendation: “I’m going to authorize a personal surety bond with no financial component,” he announces.

But Goodman isn’t willing to be as lenient as the government is with respect to the special conditions of that release. “Despite the parties recommendations,” he says, “I’m going to impose special conditions.” Specifically, Goodman wants Trump to avoid contact with witnesses and victims in the case except through counsel. He asks the government to submit a list of witnesses and victims so that Trump would know whom to avoid by way of abiding by the restriction.

Continuing to enumerate the special conditions of Trump’s release, Goodman further says that Trump should avoid talking to Nauta about the case. He emphasizes that he customarily would require no contact whatsoever between co-defendants. But here he recognizes that Nauta works for Trump, and it would thus be “impossible” for the usual condition to apply in this case. For that reason, Goodman says the restriction will only apply to Trump and Nauta’s communications about the case itself.

Blanche successfully attempted to narrow the contact order still further, allowing contact but not discussion about the case.

Here Blanche interjects: “Your honor,” he asks, “may I be heard on the special conditions?”

After receiving permission to continue, Blanche says that the “problem” with the conditions enumerated by the judge is that many of the likely witnesses in the case are part of Trump’s protective detail or long-time employees. “For him not to be allowed to have contact with them would in our view be inappropriate,” he stresses. To emphasize this point, he notes that the same challenges that exist in restricting Trump’s communications with Nauta similarly apply to Trump’s communications with his security detail and employees. “As one example,” he continues, a “key witness” is the President’s lawyer. For those reasons, Blanche urges the court to reconsider its restriction on communications with witnesses.

Then Harbach, rising at the judge’s request for a response, offers the government’s view. Noting that the government is “cognizant” of the issues raised by Blanche, Harbach suggests that the prosecution come up with a non-exhaustive, narrowed list of witnesses that could “accommodate” Blanche’s concerns. After producing the list, he advises, the government could confer with Trump’s legal team to work through any practical difficulties. Further, he says, the government would suggest that—as with Nauta—the restriction could be limited to communications with these witnesses about the case.

Responding to these representations, Judge Goodman momentarily toys with the idea of requiring the government to make up a two-category list of witnesses: a category of witnesses with whom there should be no contact at all, and a category of witnesses with whom there should be no contact about the case. For example, he says, members of Trump’s protective detail would fall within the second category.

Blanche, however, remains unsatisfied with this proposed arrangement. He suggests that it would be “unfair” to people who rely on Trump for their livelihoods if the government were to place them on the “no contact” list. Moreover, he says, these restrictions on communications with witnesses are not necessary because “all of these witnesses” have their own counsel, which Blanche seems to consider sufficient to guard against any improper communications with Trump.

Harbach, whom I suspect is keen to let the court impose this restriction now that it has been proffered by someone other than him, jumps in. He wants to “reiterate,” he says, that the magistrate’s special conditions are “workable.”

Judge Goodman agrees. Discarding the idea of the two-tiered list of no-contact witnesses that he had considered moments ago, he decides on a simpler course of action: The government should produce of list of witnesses, but the “no contact” restriction will be limited to no communications “about the facts of the case other than through counsel.”

“So that will be a special condition,” he declares with an air of finality.

This decision is what it is — and I have every expectation that Trump will violate the restriction on talking about the case. But this is a testament that Trump was charged based on the testimony of his closest aides. These people practically live with Trump. And their testimony could put him in prison.

A lot of people are upset that Trump and his alleged co-conspirator didn’t receive stronger conditions.

With respect to Nauta, of course, he’s got no record and he’s just charged with obstruction, so a personal recognizance bond is not that surprising.

With respect to Trump, most Espionage Act defendants are jailed pre-trial.

But there are recent examples where Espionage Act suspects remained out on pretrial release after their compromises were discovered. Both Robert Birchum and Kendra Kingsbury, for example, who like Trump collected hundreds of documents over years and took them home, remained at large (and according to the government sentencing memo filed just this week in Kingsbury’s case, she was less than helpful during the investigation). If the government hopes to find a way to get Trump to plead out of this charge, the comparison is not inapt.

More importantly, Trump has a full-time security detail, so he will be in immediate reach of Federal law enforcement at all times. Plus, there’s a strong preference for pre-trial defendants to be permitted to continue to work. His job is lying to rubes and running for President.

More generally, though, everything the government has done thus far — both by filing the case in Florida, and by doing nothing to impede Trump’s campaign (to say nothing of giving him an ankle bracelet to show off) — undercuts Trump’s claims that this is a political prosecution.

That won’t — and hasn’t — stopped him from claiming it is one.

But already, there are a number of Republicans who, once they’ve read the indictment, have started coming around to the gravity of Trump’s crime. There are a number of Republicans who agree that the decision to prosecute Trump was not political.

And that’s as important a part of this prosecution as anything else: to get a majority of the country to understand that the charges are merited.

Expected Response Is Expected, Redux: Trump, Post-Arraignment

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Two days after a warrant was served on Mar-a-Lago last August, I wrote this:

We could have seen it coming after all this time. They’re reliably predictable, no crystal ball required.

Trump appears to be in trouble: The FBI serves a warrant on Mar-a-Lago, seizing papers.

There’s a moment of hesitation or pause: Trump delivers a ranty statement some time after the FBI leaves.

The coordinated response is generated: Trump’s lawyers make a false claim about evidence being planted by FBI.

The zone is flooded: The right-wing’s proxies and media repeat ad nauseam the same false claim.

The media dutifully picks up and repeats: the zone is further flooded, amplifying the false claim.

This is a cycle we’ve seen repeated over and over again. The only additional step not included here is the final one in which some pundit will opine about this situation being bad for Democrats and Joe Biden though it has nothing to do with them whatsoever.

I noted then that the media responded reflexively to this cycle. Breaking out of their sycophantic role has happened but very rarely, and I say that only because I can’t think of a good example off the top of my head when a media outlet didn’t just regurgitate Trump’s DARVO, thereby poisoning understanding by those who aren’t media literate/skeptical and those who are themselves stuck in the same loop as MAGA GOP.

Trump will once again Deny the Attack, Reverse Victim and Offender, a behavior pattern typical of abusers, and the media will enable it thereby becoming the abuser’s weapon — once again wielded against the public.

After this afternoon’s arraignment, I expect we’ll be swamped once again by the same DARVO cycle. Trump will repeat everything he said after he was told he was a target, after he was told an indictment was imminent. He raged on his own version of Twitter, he raged again on video; he’ll do this all again, perhaps with some additional flourishes in a live venue.

I’m an innocent man,” he claimed over and over, though the timeline of events, the photos taken, the refusal to fully cooperate with the National Archives and the Department of Justice all indicate otherwise.

After his arraignment in Manhattan NY this April for charges of falsified business records, Trump fulminated.

He called Smith a “lunatic,” and also claimed the judge presiding over his case in Manhattan is a “Trump-hating judge.”

… Trump cast the indictment as Democrats’ latest attempt to kneecap him, citing previous “fraudulent investigations” related to Russia and Ukraine, and “impeachment hoax one” and “impeachment hoax two.” Trump said his opponents have “really stepped up their efforts by indicting the 45th president of the United States.”

And of course he claimed he was the victim of an injustice, “I never thought anything like this could happen in America … Never thought it could happen. The only crime that I’ve committed is to fearlessly defend our nation from those who seek to destroy it.”

Defending our nation looks a lot like unlawfully retained classified documents carelessly dumped from a box in a storeroom near a resort’s pool.

Today’s arraignment might produce slightly different results as Trump might not wish to insult Trump-friendly Judge Cannon. However he will surely insult Special Counsel Smith, casting Smith once again as a villain of the deep-state apparatus seeking to harm poor little old Trump.

~ ~ ~

Few to none of the media outlets will note that none of this had to happen. Trump could have turned over everything — presidential records, classified documents, defense information — when NARA asked in May 2021.

He could have tried to comply again in February 2022 when NARA said it was still missing documents.

Trump could have done more to comply between February and June 2022 — heck, up to the search warrant’s execution in August — but instead he and his minions obstructed.

The arraignment today is a choice that Trump made. He has no one to blame but himself.

But because this is his lifelong practice, he will blame everyone else but himself. He will depict himself as a victim.

And the media will likely repeat his bullshit rather than noting the real victim is this nation and its Constitution, because the documents Trump has steadfastly refused to relinquish belong to our executive office.

Watch closely now for the DARVO and media’s complacency. It’s just a matter of time — tick-tock.

~ ~ ~

This is an open thread. Bring all your non-Trump stuff here rather than clutter Marcy’s threads.

Trump’s “Beautiful Mind Paper Boxes:” Jack Smith’s Points of Leverage

In this post, I laid out how DOJ really really really tries to plead out 18 USC 793(e) cases if it can do so, to avoid doing any more damage to national security, on top of the original compromise. That’s true even with a garden variety Green Beret who brought classified documents about a gripe home from work. All the more so if it’s the former President who compromised hundreds of highly sensitive documents.

But as we’ve seen over the ten months since the search of his beach resort, Trump is highly unlikely to do that.

What would it take — Jack Smith’s team may have brainstormed before they filed this — to get Trump to enter into a plea agreement?

So I want to return to my argument that the Mar-a-Lago case is tactical — a tactical nuke, I called it. Partly, I think it is designed to give Walt Nauta very good reason to plead and cooperate, to what end and import I only have guesses.

Partly, I think charging 31 incredibly sensitive documents is a different kind of threat to Trump than it is to most people, because of his narcissism.

Those 31 charged documents are, taken together, a bunch of stories that prosecutors can tell about why Trump stole classified documents. The reason prosecutors included some are pretty easy to guess. Document 19, which concerns US nukes, is classified Formerly Restricted. Under the Atomic Energy Act it could not be declassified by the President alone, so that document will be legally easier to prove to be National Defense Information covered by the Espionage Act than others might, even if jurors don’t get the import of protecting information on America’s nuclear weapons. Some, like document 11, an unmarked document that captures military contingency planning of the United States, seem to be another example of stuff that is obviously NDI, information that is closely held precisely because doing so is necessary to protect US security, regardless of classification level (and may have been selected because it doesn’t include classification marks). Others, like document 3 and document 23, appear to have Sharpie notes, which may provide some hints about why Trump stole them. Matt Tait thinks document 7, memorializing October  28, 2018 communications with a foreign leader, might record a call with Putin or Mohammed bin Salman, post Khashoggi execution, both of which could be highly embarrassing for Trump. Based on its date, Tait argues that the other document pertaining to nukes in Trump’s stash, document 5, likely pertains to Russia. Brian Greer thinks the charged documents turned over on June 3, most of which are from the fall 2019 period during impeachment, could be a coherent set. Whatever else document 8 is — it is described as an October 4, 2019 Five Eyes document — the spillage picture from the storage closet would amount to proof that by storing it insecurely, Trump made it accessible to at least two people who no longer had clearances.

Whatever these documents are, his closest aides considered him to be obsessed with them. Employee 2 — according to WaPo, this is Trump’s then-Executive Assistant, Molly Michael — described the boxes as Trump’s “beautiful mind paper boxes” as she debated with a colleague about where to stash them. Trump went to great lengths to curate and keep these documents; they became tied to his self-imagination of power, it seems. He told Evan Corcoran, “I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes.” As bad as it is for Trump that the government seized these documents from him, it might pose a far greater injury to his ego if they were shared in court for all the world to see who he really was. We’re all going to get to look at Trump’s boxes if this goes to trial. All of us.

And while the timing of this prosecution cannot be predicted (aside from that the CIPA process will take a lot of time), such an injury to Trump’s ego might be greater if “his” boxes were to become public in the middle of the general election, which is about the earliest that might happen.

So, bizarrely, as hard as it would be for the spooks to declassify these for trial, it might do as much damage to Trump’s psyche to have the contents of “his” “beautiful mind paper boxes” shared for the entire world to see. It would shred the sense of power that he derived from them (and in many cases, would show that many of his public claims about what — say — Mark Milley had really said were false). And so keeping them secret might be something about which Trump and DOJ could come to some kind of agreement.

But that’s not the only point of leverage that Smith has.

Because Trump decided to announce his Presidential run early in a bid to stave off criminal charges, Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith to oversee both criminal investigations into Trump, the stolen documents case and the January 6 case. At the very least, that means that in the not-too-distant future, Smith will file additional charges against Trump and his close associates, in DC. Since Trump will be dealing with the same prosecutor, Smith, in both, if he wanted to settle one case — say to stave off having his “beautiful mind paper boxes” exposed in Florida — Smith could attempt to include a settlement in a second case in any negotiation.

You still have to get Trump to a position where he wants to settle, but having the same prosecutor oversee both cases simply gives him more flexibility, flexibility that might be able to find a just result for the country.

And the way in which these cases intersect may provide Smith additional tools. Several witnesses in the stolen documents case also have exposure in one or another aspect of the January 6 case. Trump Representative 1 is — again, per the WaPo — Alex Cannon. The January 6 Committee documents showed Cannon to be a key player in (not) vetting fundraising pitches for false claims; but he was also involved in attempts to limit the damage of Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony.

No one has yet identified Trump Attorney 2, but it may be Boris Epshteyn, who had his phone seized last September and already sat for two days of interviews with Smith’s prosecutors. Trump will go to court today represented by Todd Blanche, who also represents Boris. And Boris’ close associate and partner in crypto-corruption, Steve Bannon, received a subpoena from the Special Counsel last month.

Perhaps the most important of these players common to both criminal investigations, however, is Michael, and that enigmatic comment, “Oh no oh no … I’m sorry potus had my phone” is one of the reasons why. Michael was one of Trump’s most important gatekeepers leading up to January 6, and the logs of his calls from that period were mysteriously not kept. When the January 6 Committee questioned her about events, Michael professed not to remember a lot of things from that period. When the January 6 Committee asked her about her phone — the phone that Trump would sometimes use — she explained that her lawyer had pulled off any texts relevant to the event, but did not provide more. Because Trump made Michael a central player in his effort to steal classified documents, Jack Smith appears to have obtained her phone, a phone that would show some of Trump’s communications, as well as her own.

Indeed, that reference to Trump having her phone on December 7, 2021, may be as much about what he was doing with it as what she said to Nauta once she got it back.

More importantly, these overlapping players have witness testimony about more than the attack. Most if not all of them, as well as most if not all of their known attorneys, are the beneficiaries of the suspected campaign finance fraud that has become a second prong of Jack Smith’s investigation — the investigation into how Trump raised money from small donors promising to use it on election integrity and instead used it on paying lawyers for other criminal exposure (and, as noted, that’s the area where Cannon’s known legal exposure is greatest). We may learn more about how DOJ feels about that today, if DOJ asks for a conflict review of Stan Woodward’s representation of Walt Nauta.

The indictment charged Nauta. But it is very coy about the degree to which the other named witnesses, especially Michael and Epshteyn, have cooperated or might be exposed elsewhere.

And that’s important because of the other elements that don’t show up in this indictment. Michael is the one who ordered Chamberlain Harris to make copies of Trump’s schedules, for example, which in the process resulted in the dissemination of classified information. Michael is the most likely candidate to be the person who compiled one Secret and one Confidential document into one with messages from a pollster, a faith leader, and a book author. One uncharged crime in Trump’s existing indictment describes him sharing classified information with a representative of his PAC (and the paragraph immediately following that one hints that the information may have subsequently been shared with the press). The last thing Jay Bratt did before obtaining this indictment was to interview Taylor Budowich about shared knowledge of Trump’s employees that he was hoarding documents.

As far as we know, Trump appears to have kept the most spectacular of these documents for himself. “I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes,” Trump told the attorney he had hired to search them. But the more mundane documents — such as the Iran document that disappeared forever after it was publicly aired at Bedminster in July 2021 — appear to have been exploited by the same Political Action Committee that was already the subject of Smith’s increasingly interlocking inquiries.

Trump lied to his small donors about how he was going to use their money. But he also appears to have taken documents when he left the White House — documents that belong to you and me — that he has since put to his own personal and political benefit. Some of those documents are classified.

And so — especially given the suggestion that Smith needed his indictment to go back to a grand jury still working in DC — Jack Smith may have more points of leverage over Trump and his closest associates, including points of leverage that remain almost entirely hidden.

Update: As I was writing this, Lawfare published a similar piece on shoes yet to drop.

Trump Needs Cleared Lawyers, Not Just Any Lawyers

WaPo has a 28-paragraph article on Trump’s scramble to find lawyers to appear at his arraignment today that doesn’t mention several things that are undoubtedly making the search harder.

First, there are all the details in the indictment that reveal how much information Trump withheld from his lawyers: not just the location of the files Evan Corcoran needed to search on June 3, 2022 (and Tim Parlatore tried to search in November and December, only to find none of the documents that remain unaccounted for), but also the sensitivity of the documents he had them claiming before Courts were merely personal records.

Several prominent Florida attorneys declined to take Trump on as a client after two of the key lawyers handling the documents matter — Jim Trusty and John Rowley — resigned last week, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trusty and Rowley’s departure was sudden and unexpected, leaving Trump jockeying to identify a lawyer ahead of his Tuesday appearance in federal court in Miami, where rules require practicing attorneys to be a member in good standing of the Florida bar or to be sponsored by one before appearing.

All three lawyers who quit — plus Lindsey Halligan, whose status remains uncertain — signed a letter to Congress claiming that the organization of the boxes returned in January 2022 merely reflect the result of haste and sloppiness by White House staff.

This organization of materials (i.e., schedule of calls for the day, insert page for briefing sheet to prepare for the call, newspapers from the same day) indicates that the White House staff simply [having] swept all documents from the President’s desk and other areas into boxes, where they have resided ever since


We have seen absolutely no indication that President Trump knowingly possessed any of the marked documents or willfully broke any laws. Rather, all indications are that the presence of marked documents at Mara-a-Largo was the result of haphazard records keeping and packing by White House staff and GSA.

The claim is wildly inconsistent with the evidence in the indictment showing how Trump carefully curated these documents over the course of months. That’s the kind of misrepresentation that carries a great deal of personal and professional risk, something that was obvious at the time.

The haste with which Trusty and Rowley abandoned ship, coming shortly after Parlatore’s loud departure, will raise real alarm bells for any attorneys considering the case.

Especially given another detail WaPo doesn’t mention: Lawyers who show up at his table today could get stuck seeing this criminal prosecution through, with far less ability to quit after Trump inevitably fails to disclose other key details in the future. Once a lawyer files a notice of appearance in a criminal case, they often can’t leave until a replacement is found. If, for example, Trump neglected to mention to incoming attorneys that in addition to hoarding documents, he also was disposing of them for personal gain, those attorneys couldn’t quit until a replacement showed up or Trump stopped paying them or Trump fired them.

Finally, there’s the other key thing that WaPo doesn’t mention: Trump needs cleared attorneys, and he should (finally) have the lawyers with Espionage Act experience that might have minimized some of the risk he currently faces.

When courts deal with classified documents like this one will, the judge does not need clearance. (This is a separation of powers issue; members of Congress similarly don’t need clearance.) But the lawyers do. At least one and preferably three of Trump’s lawyers will need to be cleared at the elevated levels the FBI Agents who did the search of Mar-a-Lago had to be read into to even conduct the search. As it was, Trusty was Trump’s only attorney with clearance, and he just split.

Not all lawyers want to go through the trouble of getting clearance. Some — possibly including Chris Kise, was a registered agent for Venezuela in recent years — may not be able to get cleared at that level.

Donald Trump’s trouble finding legal representation is no longer simply the comedy of self-destructiveness it has been for years. Starting today (or shortly thereafter), there will be new obligations and exposures for lawyers representing him.

Trump’s search for a lawyer is not just about finding people who are members of the bar in SDFL. He also needs to find lawyers who are willing to put their security clearance and their reputations at risk on a case where Trump has already been wildly misleading his attorneys.

Update: Without mentioning Kise’s potential unwillingness or inability to try to get cleared, Hugo Lowell describes that Kise will sponsor Todd Blanche and appear just for today. There’s still no hint of Lindsey Halligan’s status — she could also sponsor in Blanche.

After interviewing a slate of potential lawyers at his Trump Doral resort, the former president settled on having Kise appearing as the local counsel admitted to the southern district of Florida as a one-off, with Blanche being sponsored by him to appear pro hac vice, one of the people said.


Blanche is expected to take the lead role in the Mar-a-Lago documents case in addition to leading the team defending Trump against state charges in New York for paying hush money to an adult film star in 2016.

Though Kise is expected to appear alongside Blanche in federal district court in Miami, he has primarily handled civil litigation for Trump since he came off the documents case last October and is not expected to be on the trial team proper, a person familiar with the matter said.

Update: Kise filed what appears to be a permanent notice of appearance, with Todd Blanche filing as well.

Scooter Libby, Whom Trump Pardoned, Serves as Precedent for the CIPA Challenge His Prosecution Presents

If and when former President Trump goes on trial, the Classified Information Procedures Act will govern what information gets submitted at trial and in what form. I wrote about CIPA in conjunction with the Igor Danchenko case here. Former National Security Division prosecutor David Aaron wrote about it the other day.

I’d like to give three examples of what documents that have gone through the CIPA process look like.

First, here’s one of the many CIA cables introduced at Jeffrey Sterling’s trial (here’s a larger set). Sterling was convicted of leaking details about a scheme to use a former Russian nuclear scientist to deal fake blueprints to Iran in an attempt to bollox their nuclear program. The cables would include substitutions for all the organizational details of how CIA works, as well as for the names of the Russian — Merlin — and all the covert CIA officers involved. Entire paragraphs that weren’t crucial to the meaning of the document were redacted.

This particular document was 15 years old when it was used at trial. Most if not all of the Sterling exhibits were classified Secret.

This exhibit includes the parts of Josh Schulte’s prison notebook introduced at trial. This was tied to the allegation that he was launching an Information War from jail, planning to leak further classified information to damage the CIA.

The government was able to substitute the name of a cybersecurity company that had IDed one of the CIA’s hacking tools, so as to avoid confirming that the tool referred to as Bartender in the WikiLeaks release was the malware discussed in the vendor report. But several other things were entirely redacted — such as details of the role that Schulte played at the CIA.

Some of these redactions cover other information — such as his privileged material or stuff that’s particularly inflammatory.

Schulte wrote these notes in 2018; they were first introduced for his 2020 trial, then again for his trial last year.

The case that may present the most analogous challenges to a trial against Trump is the Scooter Libby case, which — like the documents charged against Trump — involved a lot of classified communications to the White House. Here are the exhibits used in his 2nd Grand Jury appearance, at which he lied to cover up the orders Dick Cheney gave him.

Many of these are CIA documents from which the classification markings and entire sentenced were redacted. Like two of the exhibits charged against Trump, these have hand-written notes — sometimes Libby’s, sometimes Cheney’s — which were important to the case. One HUMINT report involving Joe Wilson redacted all the front-matter, including the classification marks (in this case, the notation of Wilson’s name was the important bit).

Even still, the vast majority of the documents introduced at trial were still just classified Secret, not Top Secret with compartments like most of the documents charged against Trump.

The exceptions were often Libby’s notes of Daily Briefings (including PDBs), which he used as part of a gray-mail campaign to try to make the case impossible to try. Though they didn’t have any classification marks (as is true of a document charged against Trump), they were treated as TS/SCI.

Here’s one example of from Libby’s own notes:

The vast majority of this had to be declassified because it was central to the defense Libby was mounting. Just the Foreign Leader and the US official were masked.

The Libby documents are similar to those charged against Trump in another way. These were just 4 years old when presented at trial. If Trump were to go to trial next year, the most recent documents, from 2020, would be four years old.

These cases are all in different circuits than Trump would be prosecuted in. Nevertheless, given the scant number of CIPA cases, it’s possible that the case of Josh Schulte — about whose case was one of the first times Trump shared classified information — and Scooter Libby, whom Trump pardoned, will serve as precedents for his prosecution.

31 Flavors of Stolen Classified Documents

In days ahead, there’ll be a heated discussion of what kind of sentence Espionage Act defendant Donald Trump might face. But even among the really experienced people — who correctly point out that Trump’s sentence would be a tiny fraction of the total 400 max he faces — I think the discussions are wrongly conceived. To explain why, I plan to return to my argument that the Mar-a-Lago indictment is tactical.

But first, I want to emphasize the magnitude of the fact DOJ charged Trump with hoarding 31 documents, each charged as an individual count and described, with classification markings, in the indictment. Virtually all of these documents are the type that the government is normally loathe to include at trial, and yet DOJ piled them on, compartmented document on top of compartmented document. The decision to commit to presenting all of them at trial is really remarkable, and must be (and is not being) accounted for in discussions of potential sentencing.

As background I’d like to review five similar prosecutions.

Daniel Hale

First consider two recent prosecutions (Chelsea Manning’s court martial, after which she was sentenced 35 years, is a third) where the indictments listed a long catalog of stolen documents like DOJ did with Trump: Hal Martin and Daniel Hale.

In Hale’s case, the indictment first listed all 23 documents he printed out from his job at a defense contractor, only four of which were as sensitive as most of the documents Trump was charged for hoarding.

DOJ only described the 11 documents that were published by The Intercept (document H, the fourth TS document, was not published by The Intercept and so not included in the charged documents). It then charged five counts:

  • 18 USC 793(c) for taking the 11 documents ultimately published
  • 18 USC 793(e) for taking and sharing the files with Jeremy Scahill
  • 18 USC 793(e) for causing to be published the files
  • 18 USC 798(a)(3) for sharing 4 SIGINT documents (documents A, D, E, and K, above)
  • 18 USC 641 for taking the files, charged to include the 11 that got published and a few other unclassified documents that they had proof he had taken

Hale pled guilty to one count without a plea agreement immediately before trial and got a 45 month sentence. He is due to be released in July 2024.

Had Hale gone to trial, the government wouldn’t have had to expose any new information (though it would need to declassify it), because every charged document had been published already. So DOJ really risked very little by charging all 11 documents published by The Intercept. Any damage was already done.

Hal Martin

The way DOJ charged Hal Martin, though, is more akin to how DOJ has charged Trump.

Martin, remember, was arrested, guns-a-blazing, immediately after Shadow Brokers pegged him as the source of the documents being released in 2016. When the FBI searched his home, they found stacks and stacks of documents, including in his car. It took six months to charge Martin, presumably because DOJ had to do an investigation into what and why he had taken — including whether he was Shadow Brokers or had wilfully leaked the documents to Shadow Brokers. Unlike Trump, he was in pre-trial custody that whole time.

In the end, there were no dissemination charges (ultimately, the public record in his case is inconclusive whether he wilfully leaked these documents or not, but if he did, DOJ either couldn’t prove it or chose not to try). As DOJ did with Trump, each of a bunch of documents, a total of 20, were charged as separate counts.

There are descriptions of each of these 20 documents in the indictment, but not classification markers. The indictment describes that they were a mix of Secret, Top Secret, and SCI.

DOJ presumably got sign-off from the agencies to present these documents at trial, but after a very long pre-trial process, Martin ultimately pled guilty in March 2019 to one count of 18 USC 793(e) as part of a plea agreement, with an agreed on sentence of 9 years, one year short of the 10-year max. He’s scheduled for release in May 2024.

Nghia Pho

By comparison, Nghia Pho — the other presumed source of Shadow Brokers, from whom hackers stole a bunch of NSA files loaded onto his home computer — entered into a plea agreement from the start. His Information didn’t describe any of the documents he took home, though suggested many were TS/SCI. Pho was sentenced to 66 months. Pho, who was in his 60s when he was sentenced and is now 72, is due for release in September.

This is the way DOJ normally prefers to treat those responsible for leaks and other compromises, because the prosecution does little additional damage. Of course, there was never a chance in hell such an approach would work for Trump.

Note that Thomas Windom, who is one of the lead January 6 prosecutors, was on the Pho prosecution team.

Jeremy Brown

Two other relevant cases involve Floridians prosecuted in the last year. With Oath Keeper Jeremy Brown, the government did list and present the five documents, all classified Secret, he was accused of hoarding. They used the Silent Witness rule to present the classified documents at trial, all of which were far more dated and less sensitive than the ones Trump is accused of stealing. Here’s how they described that process in the pre-trial process.

First, the government would provide each juror, the Court, and the defense with a binder of unredacted copies of the Classified Documents. The same process was followed in Mallory, 40 F.4th at 173, and it would enable the jurors to examine the Classified Documents while the government elicits unclassified testimony about the same from its expert witness. As in Mallory, the defense would be permitted to follow the same procedures during cross examination and/or with its own cleared expert, should the defense choose to retain one. Id. This procedure ensures that the jury has full access to the information it needs to fulfill its obligations. Id. at 178 (“But a review of the record reveals that the silent witness rule denied the jury none of the information on which Mallory based his defense.” (emphasis in original)). Second, the government will have Bates and line numbers added to the Classified Documents to enable the witness, the government, and the defense to direct the jurors to specific portions of the material.

Brown was only convicted of one of five Espionage Act counts, but nevertheless was sentenced to 87 months for the document as well as the illegal weapons he was convicted of hoarding.

Robert Birchum

Finally, there’s Robert Birchum, a retired Lieutenant Colonel who was just sentenced to 36 months a few weeks ago. Birchum was found hoarding over 300 documents he had collected before 2008, in 2017, six years ago. The Air Force declined to court martial him, and he was honorably discharged (it sounds like the Air Force really valued the counterinsurgency work he did). The first his case was made public was in January, when he was charged by Information with one count of 793(e). That Information did describe two documents he was charged with:

two documents classified at the TOP SECRET/SCI level from the National Security Agency (NSA) relating to the national defense that discuss the NSA’s capabilities and methods of collection of information.

The government asked for a bottom of guidelines sentence of 78 months, emphasizing Birchum’s abuse of a position of trust and the sensitivity of the documents he took. Among other things Birchum raised at sentencing is that he was so important to the Air Force, they sent him back to Afghanistan even after diagnosing him with PTSD. He also invoked all the high ranking people, including Trump, who had brought classified records home.

Among others, Mr. Birchum’s case now shares a stage with the current President of the United States, the former President and Vice-President of the United States, and a former Secretary of State. Looking a bit further back in time, one can see examples of other high-level government executives involved in the same type of offenses, including a former national security adviser who pled guilty to knowingly removing classified documents from the National Archives and a former CIA director and retired four-star general who pled guilty to sharing classified documents with his biographer and mistress. Both the former national security adviser and the former CIA director were sentenced to pay a fine and probation. No charges have been bought against any of the other individuals noted above. Similar cases involving lower-level government employees that did result in prison sentences typically involved attempts to obstruct the investigation or actual dissemination of the information or both.

He was sentenced to 36 months.

The reason I laid all this out is to suggest how remarkable it was that DOJ listed 31 documents Trump allegedly stole. Of the cases above, they did so with less sensitive, dated records that Brown was charged with, with the 11 documents already published in Hale’s case, and then the catalog of documents charged against Martin, some of which may also have been compromised as part of the Shadow Brokers release. If Martin’s charged documents were already compromised as part of the Shadow Brokers case, it means that among these cases, there is no precedent for the government choosing to charge a catalog of incredibly sensitive documents like they have with Trump.

That’s one reason I keep harping on the footnote in a DOJ filing in the Trump case from last September, invoking the Pho case (where we know the documents were badly compromised) to suggest that sometimes the Intelligence Community has to operate on the assumption that programs have been compromised and shut them down.

Once the government loses positive control over classified material, the government must often treat the material as compromised and take remedial actions as dictated by the particular circumstances. Depending on the type and volume of compromised classified material, such reactions can be costly, time consuming and cause a shift in or abandonment of programs. In this case, the fact that such a tremendous volume of highly classified, sophisticated collection tools was removed from secure space and left unprotected, especially in digital form on devices connected to the Internet, left the NSA with no choice but to abandon certain important initiatives, at great economic and operational cost.

We know one of the 31 documents charged against Trump — the document described in Count 8 that fell out of a box in the storage closet — would be treated as compromised, particularly if someone knocked the box over or is believed to have found it (remember that there are no cameras inside the storage room).

I can’t emphasize this point enough: One possible explanation for the catalog of charges against Trump is that the IC knows, or made a decision last September to assume, that all of these documents have been compromised. It’s one of the most likely ways to explain DOJ’s willingness to include all of them in charges, just like they did with the documents charged against Hale.

That possibility is not being factored into any of the discussions about sentencing, and it should be. The IC likely has to assume that the many intelligence services that targeted Mar-a-Lago, including two known Chinese infiltrators, found some of these documents, or maybe just the musicians and partygoers who could have had access while they were taking a shit.

Importantly, all the documents charged remained in an unsecured storage room after it became public that there were classified documents among the ones that Trump had delivered to NARA in January 2022. (Note, among the really sensitive documents that weren’t included in Trump’s charges are ones classified HCS-O, describing HUMINT operations.)

The Pho and Birchum examples show that DOJ would far prefer negotiating a plea agreement in advance, to minimize further damage to national security. But Trump made quite clear after the search last year, he was unwilling to go quietly.

The only one of these five who went to trial was Brown, and DOJ used the Silent Witness rule for him. That rule is rightly controversial even with disfavored shithole defendants like Brown (or Kevin Mallory, who was convicted of spying for China using it). I simply can’t imagine using the Silent Witness rule in a trial with a former President. The issues of legitimacy are too great. And so, if this thing goes to trial, I assume redacted copies of all these documents would be introduced as evidence that would get shared with the public.

Which is why I point to the Martin case as the one most similar to Trump. My read of that case is that DOJ charged so many documents — just 20, though, rather than 31 — as part of the coercion process to get Martin to plead.

The problem, in Donald Trump’s case, is that he has more incentive to start a civil war than plead guilty to these charges.

Those are some of the assumptions — not to mention that by charging this in West Palm Beach, where Aileen Cannon was likely to and did get the assignment — that Jack Smith must have had in mind when he charged the MAL case like he did.

With every other similarly situated defendant, DOJ has pursued strategies to get the defendant to plead before exacerbating the damage of the compromise at trial. But with Donald Trump, they’re facing a uniquely intransigent defendant. And that is what Jack Smith was facing when he decided to charge this case this way.

Mind the Gap: It Was the Musician, in the Storage Closet, with the Five Eyes Secrets

The indictment against Trump and Walt Nauta reflects many of the public reports based off what witnesses or their lawyers have shared with journalists. For example:

  • ¶12 describes that the Secret Service had no knowledge of or responsibility for protecting Trump’s boxes of stolen classified documents, which is likely based in part on interviews of past and current Secret Service Agents
  • ¶24 describes that Nauta helped Trump pack up in January 2021, something based on interviews of others who helped as well
  • ¶34 provides a transcript of the meeting at which Trump boasted about an Iran document in an attempt to attack Mark Milley, about which Margo Martin was interviewed in March
  • ¶35 describes how Trump showed someone from his PAC a classified map, another topic of interviews that got reported to the press

Details of all these interviews have made press reports, and we can now understand some of why DOJ needed those interviews (though that doesn’t explain why Trump wasn’t charged for disseminating classified information in Bedminster).

But the indictment doesn’t hint at when DOJ found gaps in surveillance footage, the topic of numerous recent interviews, or how those gaps got there. In fact, the maintenance guy who flooded the server room doesn’t appear to be mentioned in the indictment at all (his actions are described in ¶61 and ¶72, without a label for him).

For key days, there aren’t gaps, at least not for the storage room. These descriptions of movement into and out of the storage room, which come with time stamps, likely come from surveillance footage:

These are the videos that led Nauta to revise his testimony last November. After that revised testimony, though, he refused further cooperation. Since Nauta got a target letter, the Trump camp has released a revised story about why Nauta refused to cooperate, a story that Maggie and others dutifully parroted today without notice that it is a revised story, and therefore suspect.

So we still can’t be sure whether those gaps were put there intentionally and if so what they serve to hide.

One potential gap is outside Trump’s residence. The search warrant affidavit has a redaction that might obscure a request for a second location (or a more detailed description of the storage room). The only description in the indictment of boxes moving from Trump’s residence is the June 2 move, which reportedly involved the maintenance guy, and so is based on witness testimony. Other descriptions of his residence were obtained from texts. We know the boxes were in there, for example, because a female family member texted Nauta about them on May 30 last year, but there are no time stamp descriptions of the boxes arriving.

If DOJ tried, and failed, to obtain surveillance footage from outside Trump’s residence, it would have prevented them from learning how many boxes went with Trump to Bedminster that same day, which the indictment describes to be “several.”

There’s also no description of how and when the remainder of the boxes were moved back to the storage closet, even though the subpoena compliance should have gone through June 24. Again, that footage might help identify how many boxes went to Bedminster, only to disappear forever.

Just 12 of the boxes seized from the storage closet on August 8, 2022, had classified records in them, though, so Trump may have pulled any classified records from the remaining 22 boxes that were in his residence.

There’s another gap, though, that I find more interesting.

As I have noted, the first subpoena for surveillance footage requested footage starting on January 10, 7 days before Nauta and another employee loaded his personal car up with 15 boxes, 14 of which included classified records, to turn them over to a standard shipping company to return to NARA.

On January 13 and 15, Nauta and Employee 2 were still actively engaged in the two month process of helping Trump personally sort through upwards of 80 boxes to curate a set of 15 he was willing to send back.

44. On January 13, 2022, NAUTA texted Trump Employee 2 about TRUMP’s “tracking” of boxes, stating, “He’s tracking the boxes, more to follow today on whether he wants to go through more today or tomorrow.” Trump Employee 2 replied, “Thank you!”

45. On January 15, 2022, NAUTA sent Trump Employee 2 four successive text messages:

One thing he asked

Was for new covers for the boxes, for Monday m.


*can we get new box covers before giving these to them on Monday? They have too much writing on them..I marked too much Trump Employee 2 replied, “Yes, I will get that!”

If Nauta or Employee 2 were in the storage closet at all on those days, it should have shown up on surveillance footage.

Maybe it did and it just wasn’t that interesting. Maybe MAL doesn’t keep surveillance footage that long.

But that’s why I’m interested in how DOJ did learn about that curation process (which, after all, is what the lie Nauta is charged with covered up — that first post-presidential curation process). Indeed, that first curation process is critical to ten of the Espionage Act charges, documents 22 through 31, the ones that were turned over in response to the May 11 subpoena. The former spooks who’ve done the most work trying to reverse engineer these documents have suggested this set of documents (all but one of which are from fall 2019, amidst impeachment) might be related; Matt Tait has speculated that three of them pertain to Turkey’s invasion of Syria and Trump’s decision to withdraw from most of Syria. You couldn’t charge those documents without solid proof that Trump affirmatively chose to hold onto them after he returned a first set in January 2022. So this sorting process is key to doing so.

In addition to interviews, the information about how the boxes moved around Mar-a-Lago came from text messages between Nauta, Employee 1, and Employee 2. A picture taken on June 24, 2021 shows how the boxes looked that day, when any boxes that weren’t spending the summer at Bedminster got moved there. Employee 2 took a picture on November 12, 2021 to show Trump how many boxes were there, then sent the picture to Nauta five days later, which seems to have been the beginning of their mutual effort to facilitate Trump’s personal sort of these documents.

It’s the picture taken on December 7, 2021 that I find particularly interesting — especially since Trump raised it yesterday at one of his rallies:

Somehow somebody turned over one of the boxes. Did you see that? I said, I wonder who did that. Did the FBI do that?

The FBI didn’t do it.

Walt Nauta discovered the box overturned with this document sticking out, which now makes up one of the 31 documents charged, long before the FBI had gotten involved.

Document dated October 4, 2019, concerning military capabilities of a foreign country (SECRET//REL TO USA, FVEY)

He took two pictures and sent them to Employee 2, the other person involved in facilitating this curation process.

On December 7, 2021, NAUTA found several of TRUMP’s boxes fallen and their contents spilled onto the floor of the Storage Room, including a document marked “SECRET//REL TO USA, FVEY,” which denoted that the information in the document was releasable only to the Five Eyes intelligence alliance consisting of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States. NAUTA texted Trump Employee 2, “I opened the door and found this…” NAUTA also attached two photographs he took of the spill. Trump Employee 2 replied, “Oh no oh no,” and “I’m sorry potus had my phone.” One of the photographs NAUTA texted to Trump Employee 2 is depicted below with the visible classified information redacted. TRUMP’s unlawful retention of this document is charged in Count 8 of this Indictment. [my emphasis]

That person’s phone at first said, “Oh no oh no.” But then explained that “potus had my phone.”

I’m not sure what to make of either of those comments.

Though the indictment said the boxes fell, of their own accord, Trump, in front of his mob, seems to think someone knocked them over. In fact he made a point of blaming others, the FBI.

Because the indictment puts the picture in the initial section about how the boxes got placed in this storage room, before things like the guitar and coat rack visible in the December 7 picture got added, and not the section describing how Nauta and Employee 2 were moving boxes back and forth from the storage room to Trump’s residence so he could sort them, it obscures that Nauta would have discovered the spill during the time when he and Employee 2 were already starting this sorting process. All this movement had to have attracted a good deal of attention. And as I noted, as part of helping Trump sort through these documents, Nauta took notes on the boxes, which necessitated swapping out lids for those that ultimately did get sent back to NARA. So if anyone was in that storage closet to put a guitar there, or if someone wanted to use this item that was in the room in June 2021, or if someone decided to go in to see what all the fuss was about, then the boxes with the good stuff might be easily found.

This is the kind of thing the FBI would have wanted to check with surveillance footage — whether someone was in that closet and either inadvertently knocked over the boxes with a guitar or something else, or dug into the boxes themselves.

Those are the kinds of gaps that might lead Trump to preemptively blame the FBI.

Jack Smith Knows his Justice Robert Jackson

Justice Robert H. Jackson, lead US prosecutor at Nuremberg

Much is being made, rightly, of the current historical moment: a former US president has been indicted in federal court. Trump and his supporters are trying to position this investigation and indictment as political revenge. Sadly for them, Special Counsel Jack Smith appears to understand the best lessons to come out of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi leadership after World War II.

The US legal delegation at Nuremberg was led by US Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson. In his opening statement at the first trial, he acknowledged that the victors in the war were in charge of the trial.

Unfortunately, the nature of these crimes is such that both prosecution and judgment must be by victor nations over vanquished foes. The worldwide scope of the aggressions carried out by these men has left but few real neutrals. Either the victors must judge the vanquished or we must leave the defeated to judge themselves. After the first World War, we learned the futility of the latter course.

But how does a prosecution by the victors avoid being accused of running a kangaroo court? Again, from Justice Jackson:

We will not ask you to convict these men on the testimony of their foes. There is no count in the Indictment that cannot be proved by books and records. The Germans were always meticulous record keepers, and these defendants had their share of the Teutonic passion for thoroughness in putting things on paper. Nor were they without vanity. They arranged frequently to be photographed in action. We will show you their own films. You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices as these defendants re-enact for you, from the screen, some of the events in the course of the conspiracy.

[UPDATE: I just found video of Jackson’s opening remarks. The “Unfortunately . . .” quote above is at the 10:15 mark, and “We will not ask you . . .” quote is at 12:55.]

As I read the indictment in the matter of the United States v. Donald J. Trump, Jackson’s words kept echoing in my head.

Books and records . . .

Vanity and photographs . . .

“You will see their own conduct and hear their own voices . . .”

What Marcy labeled (properly!) as “Hillary’s Revenge” is a collection of Trump’s own words, and Trump can be seen and heard saying them in numerous video clips all over the internet. The same is true of “Brennan’s Revenge”.

It should be no surprise to anyone that the Trump indictment echoes Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg. Before he was named as the Special Counsel in this matter, Jack Smith had spent several years working at the International Criminal Court at the Hague. From his wiki:

From 2008 to 2010, Smith worked as Investigation Coordinator for the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague.[11][10] In that position, he oversaw cases against government officials and militia members accused of war crimes and genocide.[3][9] 


On May 7, 2018, Smith was named to a four-year term as chief prosecutor for the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague, investigating war crimes committed in the Kosovo War,[8][9][13] including the case of Salih Mustafa.[16] He took up the post on September 11, 2018, and was appointed to a second term on May 8, 2022.[8]

You don’t hold positions like these without studying the Nuremberg Trials and learning their lessons.

In Jackson’s opening speech to the Nuremberg Tribunal, at the end of his introductory remarks and before he pivots into the specific discussion of the case at hand, he offered these words to the Tribunal:

The case as presented by the United States will be concerned with the brains and authority back of all the crimes. These defendants were men of a station and rank which does not soil its own hands with blood. They were men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools. We want to reach the planners and designers, the inciters and leaders without whose evil architecture the world would not have been for so long scourged with the violence and lawlessness, and wracked with the agonies and convulsions, of this terrible war.

“Men of station and rank . . .”

“men who knew how to use lesser folk as tools . . .”

“reach the planners and designers, inciters and leaders . . .”

Marcy called the Trump indictment a “tactical nuke” and she explored how it ramps up pressure on Walt Nauta to come clean. But more than that, I see it as Jack Smith channeling his inner Justice Jackson.

Yes, this is the DOJ of a political victor charging a political loser with serious crimes, but Smith learned from Jackson how that can be done with integrity. Yes, this is the first time a former US president has been charged with serious crimes, but Smith learned from Jackson that this must be done when circumstances warrant, or the nation and the world will pay a price for failing to seek justice.

Jack Smith knows his Justice Robert Jackson. Now he’s begun teaching Team Trump what’s he learned, and something tells me they aren’t going to like it at all.