Why did Trump take the documents?

The mystery of why Trump took classified documents from the White House to Mar-a-Lago and then resisted returning them deepens. It seems so senseless. I have been reading various theories as to how this situation came about and have not been completely persuaded by any of them. The mystery deepened further with the discovery of empty folders because it raises new questions. Did the folders contain documents when they were taken to Mar-a-Lago? If so, where are the documents now? If not, why take empty folders? As I understand it, these kinds of secret documents are not passed around willy-nilly like magazines but are tracked as to their whereabouts. How and why did that system break down?

David Corn tries his hand at unraveling the mystery.

The big question is why. Why did FPOTUS, as he has been dubbed in Justice of Department court filings, run off with the most classified of documents, including records based on confidential human sources? It seems clear that this was no accident. Had it been inadvertent, Trump and his aides would have quickly responded to requests from the National Archives to return the goods, and they would have sent back all the requested material, not merely a portion. And if they had errantly not returned the full complement of super-secret papers, they presumably would have snapped-to and FedExed the rest back once informed by the Archives and the FBI that the former guy still improperly possessed hush-hush documents from his reign. 

Though one can never discount incompetence in the course of such matters, the known evidence suggests Trump really, really wanted to keep these papers.

Corn lists four theories floating around to explain this puzzle.

The Double-Agent Theory. The most outlandish notion is that Trump hung on to these papers because he wanted to sell or give these secrets to another government. The Russians? The Saudis? He’s either an operative in cahoots with a foreign power or an operator who wants to cash in.

They’re Mine! Throughout his presidency, Trump demonstrated that he’s a big believer in that old French saying, l’etat est moi. He was not the custodian of the US government and the servant of the national interest; he was the government and his interests were the government’s interests. In this warped view, all these records belong to him and exist for his benefit.

Gimme Ammo. Did Trump have a use in mind for these documents when he grabbed them on his way out of the White House? Could this material somehow be leveraged or weaponized? Did it contain ammunition to be deployed against his political enemies?

As I’ve written several times, one of Trump’s great motivators is revenge—which is a cousin of spite. He is obsessed with revenge and has acknowledged it as a driving force for many of his decisions. As he told an audience in 2011, “One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you’ve got to hit ’em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You’ve got to get even.” Undoubtedly, Trump left the White House with a tremendous thirst for revenge. These documents could possibly help him seek vengeance.

We Can’t Let Anyone Know This! The public court filings in this case do not indicate if these documents are a hodgepodge of records or focus on particular issues. But one possibility is that Trump did not pilfer them to exploit them but that he purloined them because he didn’t want anyone else to see them.

All these theories have problems. I find most plausible that it is a combination of the one about him treating government property as his own and taking the documents in order to use them to seek revenge against his perceived enemies.

We know that Trump last days in the White House were a mess of seething resentments and feverish but futile plotting to remain in office, leaving him little time to make an organized sorting of what documents may be the most useful for the purposes of revenge, so he may have ended up just taking everything that was lying around just in case. When the first request from the National Archives came, he returned some but not all, thinking that they would be satisfied that they had obtained everything. It would be interesting to learn what the differences are between the ones he handed in voluntarily and the ones that had to be obtained under the search warrant.

Trump is incapable of ever acknowledging a mistake, seeing that as a sign of weakness. He simply cannot get himself to say, “Oops, my bad.” So he blusters and digs himself in even deeper, concocting ever more outlandish reasons as to why he is in the right. And his many supporters in MAGAworld, by repeating his claims, are enabling this childish behavior.


  1. flex says

    I still think there is a possibility of a fifth option. That Trump was being blackmailed, probably by a foreign power.

    I suppose it could be included in the Double-Agent theory, but I think blackmail fits his personality type a lot closer than being an active agent. He has never shown commitment to a cause, only to wealth. Should some foreign power hold power over his wealth he would be an ideal target for blackmail. He can spin government persecution, but if he has to publicly acknowledge that his wealth is non-existent, supported only by the forbearance of Russian oligarchs, he would crumble.

    I admit I have no evidence for this possibility, but I think it’s been overlooked. To be honest, I doubt we’ll ever know, even if the intelligence services find out. It will come out in 50 years, and I’ll be dead by then.

  2. StonedRanger says

    You people are overthinking this. Herr Dumpf took the stuff because he could. He gave no thought to whether it was right or wrong, he didnt care. He does what he wants and the consequences be damned because he was DER PRESIDENT. He didnt understand the office, or the job, he just understood sort of what the title meant. He took stuff so he could show it off because it makes him still feel important. He did because he is a sad, insecure, narcissistic piece of shit. Take your pick because all of the above apply.

  3. ardipithecus says

    None of the documents are dated post election, so the ‘just grabbed what was lying around’ doesn’t wash. He selected them I doubt we will ever know the reasons, because even if he reveals them, his credibility is zero.

  4. birgerjohansson says

    He was out for revenge, and also wanted to hang on to documents he found interesting, like stoned ranger @ 2 suggests -- fortunately he suffered from lack of time and clear thinking.
    BTW Bolsonaro in Brazil might stir up all kinds of problems if he loses the election. Will be pull a Trump and try a coup?

  5. JM says

    It is also important when considering the double agent option that Trump probably doesn’t consider himself a traitor or what he did even illegal. Likely he made such a deal when he was in office and doing it was at least semi-legal. Deals in the form of low level intelligence being passed to country A about country B’s military in exchange for something good for the US or at least good for some multinational company based in the US happen. That the favors somehow included a lot of money making it’s way to Trump’s hand wouldn’t bother him.

    There is also likely an element of just grabbing everything involved. Trump put off acknowledging that Biden won as long as he could and probably did little to no planning for leaving the White House. When the time came there was likely a rush to just grab anything and everything that Trump could. Combined with what was surely poor record organization in the White House. The end result being that Trump probably did take some things by accident. Trump however would not admit to such a thing and would not give back anything easily.

  6. outis says

    #2 for the win: StonedRanger has probably nailed it. Which is also mostly n°2 of the four reasons. Mine mine mine! He’s a big, vicious kid with very sticky fingers… and zero knowledge of procedures, so of course he was going to get caught.
    What is amusing (sort of) is the progressive retreat of his braindead followers:
    a) it’s all Fake News (TM), he took nothing.
    b) ok he took something, but it’s nothing important.
    c) ok it’s important, but not secret.
    d) ok it’s secret, but he had the right.
    e) ok he had no right, but he gave himself permission.
    f) ok he could not give himself permission, but HE’S STILL DA BOSS!
    Or something, who can follow this anymore. It’s getting more grim & grotesque by the minute…

  7. lanir says

    It’s probably a mish-mash of these ideas. But I think the descriptions are a bit off. They feel more like a description of someone who has a plan and just needs to get the goods so they can go through with it. But I sincerely doubt that’s the case. Trump incompetently bungled stealing those documents (with help from the sound of it -- not sure how he’d get the secure compartmentalized stuff otherwise) the same way he incompetently bungles everything else.

    He probably thought they were valuable and took them without much more thought. As a trophy? Yes. As something he’d sell later? Probably not planned, but yes, I’m sure he knew his lack of morality would definitely allow that. To screw over someone? If he could figure out how to use this stuff for that purpose, obviously. To hide something he’s ashamed of? Wait, no. That one doesn’t belong. He doesn’t have any shame.

    Also, just to mention this, we don’t care. Really. Think about it. If anyone else did this would this even be a conversation anyone outside of their close friends and family had? No. No it would not. This is just another distraction in a lot of ways. Like so many other issues with this Bozo, he’s guilty as fuck, it’s completely clear to everyone and he just needs to be held accountable for it. Why’d he do it? Don’t care, not his defense lawyer. Figuring that out and selling the idea is their job.

  8. file thirteen says

    His grandiose delusions (theory #2) had to be a major factor. We know he has grandiose delusions. I think theory #4 is also likely; he would never want to leave something that showed him in a bad light. But I don’t see the other theories mentioned as compelling reasons to hold onto documents when he could just make copies and return them.

  9. John Morales says

    I think theory #4 is also likely; he would never want to leave something that showed him in a bad light.

    Nah, #4 is ridiculous.

    Even a dolt like him would know it’s far better to use, say, an incinerator than to stash stuff that he doesn’t want to come to light.
    *poof*, gone up in smoke and ashes.

    (Also, it presumes there are no copies/originals anywhere else. As if)

  10. Tethys says

    Why did Saudi Arabia give Jared Kushner a buttload of money? Perhaps for the contents of a folder that detailed the nuclear capabilities of its various neighbor states?

    How much money does tfg owe to Russians?

    Foreign spies willingly die trying to steal those secrets, and the orange imbecile clearly wants to help them for profit. Remember how he spent so much energy trying to destroy NATO? The EPA? Democracy!? He idolizes several of the most fascist heads of state that exist, both past and current.

    Of course he stole every single thing he thought he could sell on to his debtors.

  11. file thirteen says

    John, why do you think 90 of the folders are empty? Uh, duh, because he took stuff that he subsequently disposed of? Like, in an incinerator, Einstein?

  12. John Morales says

    Sure, file thirteen.
    He must’ve incinerated the incriminating documents, but kept the covers as keepsakes.
    That’s just what I was thinking, too.


  13. file thirteen says

    So what’s your brilliant explanation for the 90 empty folders John? Don’t keep us hanging now…

  14. sonofrojblake says

    what the differences are between the ones he handed in voluntarily and the ones that had to be obtained under the search warrant

    The ones he handed in were the ones that were on the top of the piles/at the front of the filing cabinet drawers. I’d be surprised if it’s anything more complex or considered than that. The key phrase in my mind is “this’ll do”.

    As for why he took them?

    I think it’s most likely 2 or 3. Drumpf lacks the wit or organisation to be any actual use as an agent for anyone, and similarly lacks the forward planning ability to think far enough ahead to plan his revenge with any coordination. There may have been an element of “this could come in handy for fucking someone up in the future”, but no more than that.

  15. John Morales says

    file thirteen:

    So what’s your brilliant explanation for the 90 empty folders John? Don’t keep us hanging now…

    I don’t have one.
    Do you imagine I should pretend I have an explanation?

    That said, and again: (I think) #4 is ridiculous, and by now you may already have inferred that in my estimation your attempted rebuttal was, um, mockable.

    (But hey, perhaps your acumen is closer to Trump’s than mine, so that you might have a point. Maybe)

  16. file thirteen says

    You have no idea. No surprise there then. Guess #4 is more likely than you thought… oh wait, you didn’t.

    in my estimation your attempted rebuttal was, um, mockable.

    Oh, the irony.

  17. John Morales says

    You have no idea. No surprise there then. Guess #4 is more likely than you thought… oh wait, you didn’t.

    Ah, I see. You think that the likelihood of your explanation being correct depends on whether or not I myself can provide some speculative explanation.

    (A bit like when you intimated that I shouldn’t criticise your own speculative explanation unless I myself provided one)

    Oh, the irony.

    Did you intend to employ the vocative case there, or are you merely surprised?

  18. file thirteen says

    Sorry Mano, I really can’t be bothered to spar with John the ignorant dickhead any more. Farewell.

  19. John Morales says

    Huh. I haven’t got a systematic taxonomy of flounces, but I like that one.

    (phallocephalic ignorance FTW!)

  20. lanir says

    If it’s any comfort I’m pretty sure you’re both off base to some degree. Evidence seems to indicate he likes flushing all his problems away. Possibly because toilets are much more common than incinerators. But based on the type of person he seems to be I tend to think he’s also pleased that someone else has to dig around in a toilet to fix it after he stuffs it up trying to use it as a shredder.

  21. tuatara says

    I am not so sure that any of the 4 reasons are valid.
    Option 2 is possible as a motivating factor, but I don’t think it is in itself the reason.
    1. I think that he is too dumb to be a double agent. He would quickly be found out because he he would not be able to stop himself from blabbing about how great he is at being a double agent.
    3. and 4. He is well known as having not read any of the documents himself unless the information was abridged into powerpoint format that his tiny brain could comprehend, so the third and fourth reasons given are probably not valid either because if he didn’t know what they contained how could he know they might be useful as ammo against his enemies or contained evidence of his wrong-doings?
    If in fact none of the documents are dated after the election, this may only be an indication that after the election T***p was only interested in overturning it. So through lack of interest from the oval office there was little need for ongoing security briefings unless they related to the election. Because there was no substantive evidence of electoral fraud by his adversaries there would be no secret documents concerning said fraud.
    My pick is that when it became evident that no divine intervention was forthcoming, a panicked ‘moving out’ occurred like, you know, “shit, we actually lost?” and he just grabbed whatever was there without much thought, probably because he mistook them for a woman’s genitalia, but also because if he left everything there Biden would make sure the world knew that T***p had top-secret documents just lying around, unprotected.

  22. flex says

    There is another possibility, which would I think require a little more cunning than I think our intelligence agencies have.

    I’m certain many people in the US Intelligence community knew in 2016 that Trump would be a liability, less likely to understand the reports, more likely to blab about them, and much more likely to think they are his sole property.

    So, a really clever intelligence service would present information which they have already determined they could allow to be compromised. Either slightly doctored, or even actually fraudulent. A known leak can be used very effectively. You then know that your counterparts in the intelligence services in other countries have been given information which looks excellent, and they will value highly, but really not only won’t do them much good but will also help reveal the information path. A significant, but incorrect, fact can be very telling if it shows up in an unexpected place. If, for example, Tucker Carlson made a statement on his program which you know was a deliberately incorrect fact created to be released, then you might want to find out who told him.

    But I suspect the US intelligence community respected the office of the president too much to use it for feeding a mole.

  23. John Morales says

    Rolling Stone had a different suggestion:

    Opening paragraphs:

    In his final days in the White House, Donald Trump told top advisers he needed to preserve certain Russia-related documents to keep his enemies from destroying them.

    The documents related to the federal investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with Trump’s campaign. At the end of his presidency, Trump and his team pushed to declassify these so-called “Russiagate” documents, believing they would expose a “Deep State” plot against him.

    According to a person with direct knowledge of the situation and another source briefed on the matter, Trump told several people working in and outside the White House that he was concerned Joe Biden’s incoming administration — or the “Deep State” — would supposedly “shred,” bury, or destroy “the evidence” that Trump was somehow wronged.

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