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Analysis | Trump’s Nonsense Riff on Past Presidents and Secret Documents

Donald Trump’s latest riff on his decision to keep government documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence is chock full of ridiculousness and false equivalence that is remarkable even by his standards.

When he appeared at a rally in Arizona on Sunday, Trump repeatedly compared his retention of presidential data to the actions of his predecessors. Except that most of the examples he cited involved presidents establishing presidential libraries. (And his other arguments were almost complete non sequiturs.)

He quoted Barack Obama, George HW Bush and Bill Clinton who had moved their presidential records to warehouses while their libraries were being built. But that’s how the process works. And even if there was evidence that the data was mishandled during those moves — which there isn’t — it was in the custody of the National Archives, as that agency noted when several Trump allies tried to compare Trump’s situation with that of Trump’s. Obama.

Trump also invoked, as he has done before, the thousands of emails Hillary Clinton’s team deleted from her private email server. But these were records deemed unrelated to work, and then-FBI Director James B. Comey determined that there was “no evidence that the additional work-related emails were intentionally deleted in an effort to hide them.”

Then Trump came up with relatively new material, which we’ll look at piece by piece.

Perhaps most eyebrow-raising was what he said about Bush.

“Meanwhile, George HW Bush took millions upon millions of documents to a former bowling alley that had been merged with what was then an old and broken Chinese restaurant. They put them together. And it had a broken front door and broken windows. Other than that it was quite safe. There was no security.”

Many assumed Trump was talking about Bush’s favorite Chinese restaurant in the Washington area, the Peking Gourmet Inn. But, like Trump’s other claims, this actually refers to where Bush’s presidential records were stored for his library.

In 1994, the Associated Press reported that items from Bush’s personal life were sorted in College Station, Tex., “into the old Chimney Hill Bowl” and “into what used to be the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant.”

It is not at all clear what Trump meant by broken doors and windows. But the idea that there was “no security” is completely wrong. As the same story noted, “Uniformed guards patrol the property. Closed circuit television and sophisticated electronic detectors hang along walls and doors. Some printed matter are classified and will remain so for years; it is only accessible to those with top secret permission.”

The deputy director of the library, located at Texas A&M University, recalled earlier this year that she was “in a secured room [the bowling alley] to house the classified material.”

“[Bill Clinton] kept secret recordings in his sock. Did you know about that? They say he left the White House with recordings in his sock, and they found… [them] in his sock drawer.”

This refers to something Trump’s lawyers cited in a lawsuit last month. But the speech badly distorts the facts.

The recordings were not kept in Clinton’s sock, but in his sock drawer (as Trump rightly said later).

More importantly, Clinton didn’t leave the White House with the filming; they were kept in a sock drawer in the White House during Clinton’s tenure.

And they were not classified; they were recordings of conversations Clinton had with an author working on the president’s oral history.

Trump’s team and his allies have cited this as proof that a president has the authority to determine what constitutes a personal best, rather than a presidential record. They note that a 2012 court decision ruled that the recordings were Clinton’s personal records and that “the president has been fully entrusted with the management and even removal of presidential records during his term of office.”

“Under the socks decision – this is a very important decision, they call it the socks decision, because again it had to do with Bill Clinton and his socks – there is no crime,” Trump said on Sunday. “You know, there’s no crime. It’s not a crime.”

But that same statement repeatedly notes that this authority pertains to the term of office of a president. It’s not about a former president removing material with secret tags (for which there is no evidence that they have been turned into personal records).

“Bill Clinton also lost the nuclear codes and no one complained. Trump did not lose the nuclear codes. … Jimmy Carter sent the nuclear codes to his dry cleaner. You know it right? However, nothing happened.”

The first statement refers to a claim about Clinton made in a book by a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but there are reasons to be skeptical about the statement (see here for more information). The second, about Carter, refers to a more flimsy and unconfirmed rumor.

Then Trump turned to his own situation.

“The National Archives has issued a trigger warning to the United States Constitution – did you know? and the Bill of Rights, and other great documents that we have in our country, founding documents, which are considered dangerous.”

In fact, as PolitiFact reported last year, the National Archives’ warning that certain content in its collection could contain harmful language has been included “on all documents in its collection of US federal government records.” The agency does not opt ​​for the Constitution or the Bill of Rights.

“They should immediately give me back everything they’ve taken from me, because it’s mine. It’s mine. … Likewise, under the Presidential Record Act, everything should come back. Everyone should come back.”

“[The Archives] lose documents, they plant documents. ‘Let’s see, is there a book on nuclear destruction or building a nuclear weapon cheaply? Let’s put that book with Trump.” No, they plant documents.”

These two comments make little sense on their own, but even less side by side.

On the one hand, Trump continues to unfoundedly suggest that someone planted evidence in his residence (something his lawyers still won’t actually claim in court). On the other hand, he says that all documents are his and must be returned.

In particular, Trump suggests that it was the records that planted evidence. (That quote came after the “trigger warning” quote above.) But the records didn’t search Mar-a-Lago; the FBI did.

All of this suggests, more than two months into the search, that Trump is still throwing things at the wall and seeing what sticks with his supporters. But if sloppy whataboutism and baseless accusations are the best he has, he could be in real trouble.

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