The latest news about former President Donald Trump’s secret stash of documents comes from the National Archives, which reportedly recovered some 700 pages of the most secret stuff from boxes they retrieved from Mar-a-Lago last January.
That’s separate from what they collected in the most recent search, and one of the reasons the FBI knew there were more documents to be retrieved.
The obvious question is why Trump, unlike every other president before him, thought he had the right to take top secret documents with him to his golf club?
The answer, sadly, is equally obvious. He did it because he could. He did it because he’s Trump. He did it because he doesn’t think the rules that apply to everyone else apply to him.
The rule of law, which is the platform for our democracy, the foundation on which it is built, is premised on a simple but absolute principle that no one — and especially not the president — is above the law.
We lived through a constitutional crisis with a president who was ready to challenge that principle. His name was Richard Nixon. He lost. The country won.
The thing about Trump is that he hasn’t lost yet. He is still at the center of a fight. And it’s still a fight.
Here is a man who, based on indisputable evidence, helped to organize and induce an assault on the Capitol and on the processes of a democracy. Did that spell the end of his political career? No.
Here is a man who, based on indisputable evidence, took top secret and classified materials and stored them in his home and his golf club when they belonged in the most secure government facilities.
The fact that the statutory exclusion from office for those who violate the Espionage Act might not apply to the presidency, where the qualifications for office are spelled out in the Constitution, is hardly a reason to excuse its violation. But there it is. A giant so what.
Unchallenged evidence establishes that the search of Mar-a-Lago was not only justified but essential to recover and secure top-secret documents.
And what happens? Trump’s poll numbers go up. Threats against law enforcement are sufficiently serious that you have members of Congress calling on the major platforms to do something about the proliferation of dangerous threats.
The question at this stage is not what’s wrong with Trump. Trump is being Trump, at his worst, the arrogance and the righteous indignation combined in an ugly stew of outrage at those who dare, with probable cause and the law on their side, challenge his absolute power.
Which, of course, is what it means to have a democracy in which no one is above the law.
It is troubling that so many Americans are still standing up for Trump, ready to see him as a victim and not a perpetrator, as a leader and not a loser.
And what’s especially troubling is that they are willing to do it when it’s not President Joe Biden or House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on the attack, but the FBI executing a search warrant where they found exactly what they were looking for, which was boxes of documents that Trump wrongfully took.
Why should doing that put the FBI agents in harm’s way? It’s one thing to attack Democrats, and quite another to take on law enforcement.
So what does it say about us that we are so divided that we — or some of us — will jump to defend the indefensible if our opponents are on the other side?
What divides us seems stronger than what unites us, and that is a serious problem in our politics.
— Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.