Here’s why we should doubt the widespread claim that Donald Trump was hoarding the nation’s most sensitive nuclear and military secrets in a Mar-a-Lago bathroom: If he had, that highly classified material would have been leaked by now.
The New York Times and Washington Post would be quoting highly placed current and former officials familiar with the investigation who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the investigation – but who were eager to show the danger Trump presents by revealing the secrets he held.
I suspect we have only the vague, yet frightening descriptions of the seized documents from Special Counsel Jack Smith’s 37-count indictment, because a more detailed accounting might show they are more innocuous than apocalyptic. I could be wrong about that, but this much we know: Since Trump burst on the scene in 2015 the leaking of classified information has been the weapon of choice for his opponents at the highest reaches of government.
The Russiagate conspiracy hoax was fueled by leaks, especially from House Intelligence Committee Democrats and highly placed FBI officials; the Department of Justice’s inspector general referred former FBI Director James B. Comey for criminal investigation over leaks connected to the probe.
Trump is not the only target. One leaker gave ProPublica the confidential tax information of thousands of wealthy Americans – a gross violation of the privacy of ordinary citizens. Another gave Politico a highly confidential, though technically not classified, draft of the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, prompting the incessant, illegal harassment of conservative justices, and a plan to murder Justice Bret Kavanaugh.
One of the more duplicitous performances in the theater of D.C. politics is given each time current FBI Director Christopher Wray and his minions gravely tell Congress they cannot answer questions because they involve “ongoing investigations.” The truth is that they much prefer leaking cherry-picked pieces of information, behind the cloak of anonymity, to advance their narrative.
Unlike Trump, leakers do not just possess secret material, they helped spread it far and wide. And, unlike the former president, they are almost never brought to justice. The Intercept reported that the Trump administration referred at least 344 allegations involving the leaking of classified information to the Department of Justice but that “very few referrals typically end up identifying suspects.”
None of this exonerates the former president. The special counsel appears to make a strong case that he violated the law. But the guns-blazing effort to hold him accountable cannot be separated from the fact that the rule of law in America is increasingly becoming a situational tool, invoked only at the convenience of the powers that be.
Consider the argument regarding classified documents, now widely embraced by mainstream news outlets that want to get Trump but give a pass to President Joe Biden. For decades, the possession of such information outside the area authorized for individuals to view it – a sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF – was considered a crime. We don’t know how Biden ended up with such material from his days as a senator and vice president, but it was illegally removed. We also don’t know whether Biden reviewed these documents, though it is hard to believe he never saw them and even more unlikely that as they were moved and dispersed to several locations in the years since that nobody saw the classified markings and asked “the big guy” about them.
Biden’s supporters, however, are arguing that there’s “no there there” even if he took, viewed, and intentionally held the documents. All of that is now fine and dandy because he returned them when they were discovered. During a recent interview with GOP presidential hopeful Francis Suarez, ABC News presenter George Stephanopoulos, for example, declared that “there’s a very big difference between those two cases. President Biden turned them over himself. Had Donald Trump turned over all those documents, he wouldn’t have been charged.”
One wonders how this new standard might be applied to other crimes. Will bank robbers go free if they agree to return the money? I guess we’ll find out when Hunter Biden is (or is not) charged for income tax evasion: He apparently has paid back taxes.
This is not the only example of how Biden’s supporters are moving the goalposts to protect him. It is now beyond dispute that the president’s son and his brother Jim were running a multi-million-dollar influence peddling scheme, which hinged on the potential favors Biden could provide their business partners who just happened to be in countries, including Ukraine, China, and Romania, where Biden was deeply involved in policymaking while serving as vice president.
Despite the president’s insistent denials, evidence shows that he was not only aware of but met with people involved in these deals – the payments of which were often channeled through a series of shell companies and funneled, in some cases, to at least nine of his family members including his young grandchildren. It remains unclear to this day what services the Bidens were providing these entities other than access to Joe.
This is textbook political corruption. But now, his defenders insist, this is a problem for Biden only if it can be proved that he directly received money from the deals or that he specifically changed a policy in a quid pro quo for the payments to his family members.
Even if we accept that Biden never took any action in exchange for the money – that his famous boast that he forced Ukraine to fire the prosecutor investigating the corrupt gas company paying his son $83,000 a month was not a signal that he had delivered on a promise but that he was carrying out official policy – there is no doubt that his family was offering the promise of influence.
Donald Trump may get what he deserves, but America cannot endure as a great nation if the rule of law does not apply to all. To all. Fairness to all. Justice to all. That is the hallmark of our great democracy, which is built on the people’s trust in our institutions. That trust is eroding as our leaders brazenly weaponize our legal system. Benjamin Franklin warned that our founders had given us “A republic, if you can keep it.” We are losing it day by day.
J. Peder Zane is a RealClearInvestigations editor and columnist. He previously worked as a book review editor and book columnist for the News & Observer (Raleigh), where his writing won several national honors. Zane has also worked at the New York Times and taught writing at Duke University and Saint Augustine’s University.