It is the picture that launched a thousand memes.
Attached to the government’s 36-page response to Donald Trump’s request for a third party to review the materials stolen from Mar-a-Lago on August 8, the Department of Justice included a photo of documents seized by FBI investigators during the raid. Several papers, concealed by either a white sheet or cover page alleging the document contained secret or top secret information, are seen scattered on the floor somewhere in Trump’s residence.
Prosecutors hope the exhibit will convince U.S. District Court Judge Aileen Cannon to deny Trump’s request for a special master to replace a “filter team” of federal agents tasked with determining which records were unlawfully taken from the White House. But the disclosure instead earned well-deserved mockery by social media accounts on the Right; creative users doctored the photo to show cover sheets referring to Hillary Clinton’s emails, Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, Hunter Biden’s laptop, the January 6 pipe bomber, Jussie Smollet’s alleged noose and so on.
Right on cue, however, Democrats and the new media went ballistic. “These are the secrets that protect our troops,” Representative Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) tweeted on Wednesday morning with a link to the picture. “Either you want them protected or believe they should be in the hands of a corrupt man who has used U.S. resources before to help himself. Are you with the troops or Trump?” Washington Post columnist and pretend conservative Jennifer Rubin raged over “a damning photo of scattered top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago” and blamed Trump supporters for enabling the former president “in subverting our national security.” Former FBI director Andrew McCabe, busted for lying to his own investigators back in 2017, said he was “astounded” by all the “startling evidence” shown in the photo.
The Twitter account of the House Judiciary GOP was throttled for making fun of the framed front-cover of a 2019 issue of Time magazine, an item apparently confiscated by the FBI during the Mar-a-Lago ransacking. “Unbelievable that the GOP would ignore the obvious evidence of Trump’s criminality,” NBC News contributor Joyce Alene rage-tweeted. Missouri’s defeated former Democratic U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill could not contain her fury. “Think about this. This is the Republican Party, the part[y] that will be in charge of oversight of the rule of law in this country if they take control in Nov. They’re making fun of the FBI’s legal efforts to secure Top Secret files that could jeopardize US lives. Beyond disgusting.”
Predictable bleating notwithstanding, there still is no proof the trove included national security secrets or even classified information. In fact, it’s unclear who attached cover sheets to the records in question. Did Trump or members of his legal team do it? Or did FBI agents paperclip the alarming notices in an effort to dramatize evidence they knew would be presented to a judge and eventually disclosed to the public.
No one knows—and filings from both the Justice Department and Trump in the special master suit shed little light on the question. What is quite clear is that the Justice Department is pulling from a well-worn bag of tricks to stop the American people, and a potential special master, from viewing the stolen documents. In addition to informing Judge Cannon that their review is completed and has identified a “limited” number of attorney-privileged communications, government lawyers claimed in an August 30 response that the “appointment of a special master is unnecessary and would significantly harm important governmental interests, including national security interests.” A third-party arbiter would “impede the government’s ongoing criminal investigation and—if the special master were tasked with reviewing classified documents—would impede the Intelligence Community from conducting its ongoing review of the national security risk that improper storage of these highly sensitive materials may have caused.” (As I explained here, the sudden urgency to conduct a “national security” assessment, announced the same day that Judge Cannon signaled she would consider naming a special master, is a ruse by the Biden regime to keep the nature of the documents under wraps.)
If Cannon, a Trump appointee, proceeds with appointing a special master, the Justice Department has outlined its demands. The special master should only review attorney-privileged records; if Cannon allows the special master to review classified documents, the person must have top secret security clearance. All findings, the government’s lawyers insisted, must be filed under seal and the entire process concluded by September 30.
Not exactly a sign of confidence by a usually overly-confident Justice Department.
But one sentence in the government’s response appears to undermine the entire notion that Trump illegally absconded with classified material and suggests that this is merely the latest unsubstantiated witch hunt against him; the Justice Department astonishingly argued Trump should not have any presidential record in his possession. “As an initial matter, the former President lacks standing to seek judicial relief or oversight as to Presidential records because those records do not belong to him,” assistant U.S. Attorney Juan Gonzalez wrote. “The Presidential Records Act makes clear that ‘[t]he United States” has “complete ownership, possession, and control’ of them.”
That, on its face, is preposterous and certainly without precedent. Are Americans supposed to believe that some unknown archivist in the nation’s capital technically owns tens of millions of presidential papers, notes, correspondence, internal deliberations, letters, memorabilia, reports, schedules, and other material accumulated over Trump’s term and that the former president should possess none of them? Are Americans supposed to believe that Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama don’t have one single memento from their years in the White House?
Or did the Justice Department just admit this has nothing to do with the possession of unlawful super secret records and prosecutors are instead relying on a vague civil statute—a ridiculous technicality that will be almost impossible to prove in any courtroom outside of Washington—to finally take down Trump?
Time will tell.
In the interim, as both sides await Judge Cannon’s decision—journalists who covered the hearing reported she seemed inclined to grant Trump’s request—the Justice Department is preparing new legal maneuvers to keep its Trump-related contraband outside of the public eye. But what remains in the public eye for now—a picture of scattered files on the floor of Mar-a-Lago—isn’t helping make the regime’s case that this is a serious investigation undertaken by serious people.