Review Editor’s Note: Editorials represent the views of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently of the newsroom.
While much remains to be learned about the content — and context — of the documents recovered from former President Donald Trump’s Florida residence, the release last week of a redacted affidavit clarifies some critical elements of the matter. .
It is clear, for example, that the Department of Justice and the National Archives attempted to resolve the issue through discreet communication. A request was made in May 2021 for Trump to return any documents he may have taken with him to Mar-a-Lago, as required by the Presidential Records Act.
Seven months later, Trump’s representatives told the federal government they had 12 boxes ready for collection. (There were actually 15). And a letter from Trump’s attorneys acknowledged that they knew their client might still have classified documents the government wanted to retrieve and that the Justice Department was investigating. It was therefore not a “raid”, as Trump and his sycophants decried, but a search necessitated by the former president’s failure to comply with reasonable and legal requests.
Last week, Americans learned that the materials that had been recovered included 184 “classified” documents, including 67 labeled “confidential”, 92 marked “secret” and 25 determined to be “top secret”. Some were also labeled “NOFORN”, meaning they could not be legally shared with a foreign government. And others were marked “SI”, indicating that they were related to surveillance of foreign communications.
The unsealed affidavit also indicated “probable cause to believe that evidence of obstruction will be found.”
Transparency strengthens democracy. The release of the heavily redacted affidavit makes it clear that the federal government has taken the necessary steps and will enforce its laws regarding presidential records, regardless of the policy at issue.
But that hasn’t stopped some of Trump’s supporters in Congress from defending the indefensible, including attacking the institutions essential to the functioning of a democracy.
Unsurprisingly, some of Trump’s supporters across the country have picked up on these clues and threatened their fellow citizens serving the country in entities such as the Justice Department and the FBI. And, surprisingly, to the decidedly apolitical National Archives and Records Administration, which “has become the target of a wave of threats and vitriol,” according to a Washington Post article.
“Without the preservation of government records, and without having access to them, you cannot have an informed population, and without an informed population, you are missing one of the basic tools to preserve democracy,” the former Acting Archivist Trudy Peterson at the Post. “The system will not work if the neutrality of the National Archives is not protected.”
Preserving democracy is the oath of every legislator. But instead of honoring that promise, America today includes cowardly politicians like Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who predicted/promised “riots in the streets” if Trump is prosecuted for mishandling of classified information.
These types of threats erode trust in institutions and the ability of this nation to protect and project its values around the world.
“Attacks on US-led institutions that shaped the world for 80 years are now commonplace,” Jon Lieber, senior US analyst at Eurasia Group, wrote in an analysis released Monday. “One of the drivers of this is sui generis and his name is Donald J. Trump, who has gone far beyond any previous president in assaulting and breaking standards. But Trump himself is a symptom of dissatisfaction endemic and lack of trust in establishments.”
Proving Lieber’s point, on Sunday Trump apparently called on FBI agents to revolt against bureau leadership by using his social media account to question when FBI agents were going to say ‘we’re not going to put up with it anymore. “.
Regardless of political conviction, Americans should stand up to these corrosive attacks on the institutions that underpin our democracy and let the Justice Department’s investigation unfold.