For the first time in U.S. history, a former commander in chief has been charged under the Espionage Act with jeopardizing national security. Equally dangerous, he is working to erode the rule of law rather than bend to it.
Before the contents of the indictment were known or unsealed, Trump supporters raced to discredit it. Attacking the FBI and the DOJ for pursuing a “witch hunt,” they disregarded the government’s year and a half long struggle to reclaim boxes with material containing highly sensitive military defense secrets, including defense and weapons capabilities, nuclear capacities, war schematics, plans for military responses in the event of attack, maps, and U.S. allied defense vulnerabilities.
Trump’s defenders ignore the exhaustive shell game he employed to conceal the subpoenaed documents, which included directing his employees to move and scatter boxes to various rooms at Mar-a-Lago, hiding many boxes from his own attorneys, and suggesting Evan Corcoran simply lie about or destroy damning documents rather than turn them over to the FBI, saying, “I don’t want you looking through my boxes … Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”
Defending the Indefensible
Trump orchestrated the political response weeks before the indictment was issued, much the way he claimed the 2020 election was rigged before the votes were in. Trump used the indictment to supercharge his fundraising, referring to his re-election apocalyptically as an imperative “final battle,” and vowing to devote his second term to retribution.
Untroubled by the risks posed to national security, House Republicans competed in their zeal to defend Trump. Jim Jordan of Ohio says Trump had the “right” to keep nuclear weapons secrets in a high traffic area, while Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia called the indictment a “stain on our nation” from a “corrupt” FBI and DOJ. Kevin McCarthy, indulging extremists who threaten his speakership, tweeted, “It is unconscionable for [Biden] to indict the leading candidate opposing him.” Never mind that a grand jury composed of 23 Florida residents chosen at random - not Biden - voted to indict.
Andy Biggs of Arizona now calls for dismantling the FBI, and an “eye for an eye” in a “war phase.” Meanwhile Matt Gaetz of Florida predicted that Biden would be imprisoned, Kari Lake reminded the country that Trump supporters were heavily armed, and Ron DeSantis, expert in political weaponization, tweeted without irony that the “DeSantis administration will … excise political bias and end weaponizations once and for all.”
We Have Not Been Here Before
Trump’s acolytes trek in false equivalencies, but each act of indicted conduct occurred after the subpoena was issued. It wasn’t about Trump having the documents, but refusing to return them.
Although both Biden and Pence discovered documents in their possession, they immediately notified the federal government, turned over the documents, and cooperated with thorough FBI searches of their homes and offices. They did not orchestrate an 18-month cat and mouse game to evade the law.
When presidents Clinton and Nixon faced legal jeopardy, they respected the process. They did not attack the entire legal system to defend themselves; they did not call the FBI “thugs.”
Bill Barr, Ty Cobb Could Pull the GOP Back from the Brink
Trump has once again brought America to a perilous and unprecedented crossroad; the wrong turn is a path of existential threat. His unrelenting and searing contempt for the rule of law, echoed by extremist members of Congress, incites anarchy.
Either the GOP’s better angels will pivot back to the rule of law - and soon - or a major cohort of Americans will renounce the legal system altogether, convinced by Trump that it is partisan and rigged.
Bill Barr, Trump’s attorney general, sees the gravity of a moment he helped create. Discussing Trump’s latest indictment on Fox News, Barr said he was shocked by both the degree of sensitivity of the national security documents and the number of them, calling the Espionage Act evidence “very, very damning.” Scolding House Republicans for their blind defense, Barr said, “This idea of presenting Trump as a victim here, a victim of a witch hunt, is ridiculous. He’s not a victim … Those documents are among the most sensitive secrets the country has … There is no excuse for what he did here.”
Ty Cobb, Trump’s former lawyer, echoes the sentiment. Cobb previously said he believed Trump faced prison time under the Espionage Act. He reiterated his prediction after the recording surfaced of Trump discussing military material with witnesses and a reporter who had no security clearance, while acknowledging that the document remained classified. Cobb told CNN, “I think Trump is in an enormous amount of trouble. This indictment is about as carefully structured and evidentially supported as any indictment in history.”
Perhaps it was inevitable that Trump would scorn the rule of law, since the most damning evidence and arguments against him come from his own hired guns - Michael Cohen, Bill Barr, and Ty Cobb. They’ve seen Trump attack institutions of government, recklessly inviting his rage-pumped base, again, to attempt to overthrow it.
To their great and enduring credit, these fallible men have recoiled from the monster they helped create, assenting to his restraint rather than let him destroy our republic.