The media obsess over Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified documents from the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago raid and defend the National Archives’ treatment of documents from Barack Obama’s two terms in the White House. But if we address the true object of last month’s raid—unclassified documents—rational analysis reveals the hypocritical dishonesty of the overbroad search, which really amounts to a broad-daylight theft of Trump’s right to have exclusive access to his presidential papers.
Before leaving office, Trump transferred some 650,000 pages of presidential papers to Mar-a-Lago. We now know that, all told, approximately 900 pages of classified documents were among them—a comparatively small number. It is appropriate and expected for presidential papers to contain both classified and unclassified documents, especially given the confidentiality of so much presidential work. Obviously, classified documents should be stored more securely than unclassified papers.
By contrast, among Barack Obama’s presidential papers were millions of classified documents. He transferred around about 30 million pages of unclassified documents—apparently without verification by the National Archives that, in fact, all of them were unclassified—to an abandoned furniture warehouse in suburban Chicago leased by the federal government for about $2 million a year.
Because the government is renting the warehouse space, the Archives could claim that it had legal custody of these documents, indeed, stretching the point tenuously, also “physical” custody, since, after all, the government and not the Obama Foundation is the legal warehouse tenant. But we have no evidence that the Archives has ever handled these documents, even for storage purposes.
Now back to Trump. As of May, Trump had returned 800 classified documents, believing those were all that remained. In reality, his lawyers had missed about 100 pages, or 11 sets of multi-page documents, scattered among 360,000 pages in the boxes remaining after the first 25 box transfer in the spring. Was all the hoopla, including a military-style, 30 agent invasion, really about these 11 straggling documents? Of course not, as any fair-minded person would immediately sense. These numbers alone show that the absurdly broad search was a mere pretext.
But, if so, what was the true goal of the invasion? It was not about 100 pages of likely stale recitations of the obvious, as most classified documents tend to be years after their creation. Rather—and this is the key fact—the Biden Administration now has 650,000 unclassified documents, almost all of Trump’s presidential papers, which it has no right to possess under the Presidential Records Act (PRA).
To highlight his unjust treatment, Trump has claimed that the favored ex-President Obama “kept” 30 million unclassified documents. He later backed off his prior claim that Obama had kept classified documents, which the Archives did store, but to which Obama has present access. But, certain to leave no statement of Trump un-smeared, Maggie Astor of the New York Times was quick to affirm that the Archives “assumed legal and physical custody of Obama’s presidential papers” with “unclassified records maintained exclusively by the Archives.” Who is correct? Trump or the New York Times and Archives?
Surprisingly, Trump is correct. The New York Times and the National Archives are lying—at least when it comes to the commonsense meaning of “keep,” “maintain,” and “physical custody.”.
In short, the Obama Foundation has unfettered possession and control of 30 million unclassified documents in a Chicago warehouse and has had such control for over five years—which is Obama’s right under the PRA. No evidence exists that the Archives has ever touched any documents in that warehouse. Indeed, there is uncontradicted proof of Obama’s possession of these documents ever since he left office.
So, how can the Times and the Biden-controlled National Archives pass the red-face test given these undisputed facts? They are playing games of sophistry and semantics. Unfortunately for them, they are not playing very well.
By way of analogy, an ex-husband might have legal custody of his child, but his ex-wife could have 100 percent physical custody. The husband would be correct if he claimed he had legal custody but dishonest if he said he had “possession” of his children or “physical” custody or “exclusive” custody. The latter claims would be lies.
By that same reasoning, so too are the transparently false claims of the Times and the National Archives. Under the PRA, the government “owns” the presidential papers, while giving the ex-president a minimum of five years of access so exclusive that the sitting president cannot access these documents except for some specific established need. But Biden’s minions are examining Trump papers as we speak. Biden has no right to do this under the PRA.
Well before Obama left office, he arranged for the General Services Administration, directed by the Archives, to lease 74,000 square feet of an abandoned suburban furniture store for a total of $11.3 million over six years. Obviously, by selecting a Chicago area warehouse, the Archives was accommodating the Obama Foundation, which had decided on a southside Chicago location for its library. This accommodation was not inappropriate. Why? Again, because the law gives the ex-president a minimum of five years of exclusive access to his presidential papers. If the Archives had put the warehouse in Washington, D.C., the location would be highly inconvenient for the presidential library and for the right of the ex-president to have access to the documents. And while the Archives “approved” the warehouse as a temporary facility for Obama’s use, it admittedly was not a facility approved by the Archives for ultimate archival storage. So, Obama not only has had exclusive access to these papers, but also the right to completely control the contract to digitize the records before eventually turning them over to the Archives for permanent storage.
While the New York Times and other media concentrate on the sins, real and imagined, of Trump, no one has asked if the Archives was as accommodating to Trump as it was to Obama. Did the Archives try to lease space in Palm Beach, convenient to Trump, as it leased space in Chicago, convenient to the Obama Foundation? Did it try to establish the same semantic framework as per Obama, in which the Archives could claim to “possess” the documents, while allowing Trump the unfettered access required by law?
Contrary to their public statements, the National Archives does not have “possession” or “exclusive” control or “physical” custody. Obama does. But, now, post-raid, Trump has none. Is this “equal justice under the law”?
The upshot? The Mar-a-Lago raid was not about classified documents. It was about the Biden Administration gaining access to 650,000 pages of unclassified documents to which it had no established need and to which it had no rights of access under the Presidential Records Act.
What can we conclude from the foregoing? First, there was no need for a military-style search warrant to collect a few straggling classified documents. They could have been obtained either by further discussions or a motion to enforce a subpoena.
Second, even if there were a hyped-up justification for a search warrant for classified documents, such a warrant should have been limited to the classified documents remaining, since there has never been any need demonstrated to seize unclassified documents—the lion’s share of the search warrant’s take.
Third, it does not appear that the National Archives, directed by a “liaison” in the Biden White House, has made any arrangements to provide reasonable access to Trump to those papers that the Biden Administration has seized, clearly required by the PRA.
Fourth, under the PRA, Biden cannot access unclassified documents without an established need. Yet, while he has shown no established need, his minions have been examining them.
Fifth, the National Archives, abetted by the New York Times, lied when it claims it has exclusive physical possession of Obama’s unclassified papers.
At least part of Trump’s unclassified papers were likely documents collected to show Biden corruption in Ukraine and China. But now Biden cleverly—and illegally—has gained access to these documents and is keeping Trump from his 100 percent legal access.
In short, the lack of honesty of the Times and the Natioanal Archives is a set-in-stone marker of the partisan abuse of the criminal process in the Mar-a-Lago search. People lie when they have something to hide, and the Biden Administration has plenty of sins it wants to keep from the public. That alone is what’s behind last month’s outrageous and unconstitutional search.