The legend of the Mar A Lago documents has blossomed like some kind of strange weed, with tendrils everywhere. And, it just seems more stupid the closer I look at it.
To me, the whole thing has become emblematic of a certain part of the Washington insider class, who seem as though they’d rather die than admit to making a mistake. The guys who kept the US war criming in Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan, rather than admitting that it was all a mistake. The guys who had huge arguments about the meaning of “quagmire” on television, in a futile effort to deflect the something or other. What blows my mind is that they don’t realize that today’s media landscape is so oversaturated with stupidity that they could just shrug and say, “Sure, I did that. Sorry. Can we move on?” and that’s exactly what would happen. The whole thing is so stupid it would simply bounce off and eventually it’d swirl down the memory hole and be forgotten. We’ve completely forgotten far more important things – all it takes is a simple apology and some mumbled pablum about “I did not live up to my self-image but now I am ready to move on.” Look at how Biden’s people, and Pence’s people, and Pescatore’s people handled it: “oh, oops, well, here are your docs and please let us know if you think we missed any more, bye now.” There’s a weird relationship to this particular issue, namely that republicans and Trump made such a gigantic deal about Hillary Clinton’s emails that they feel they can’t let go of this one and apologize, and are going to force everyone to make a gigantic deal about Trump’s ‘boxes.’ It’s as if there are bodies hidden in the boxes just waiting to be disclosed, but, still, nobody’d care.
Here is a novel defense that would have defused the whole thing: “Oops, well, my personal assistant screwed up and has been terminated. All documents are returned and let’s move on, now. Please don’t bring it up again as part of some ‘witch hunt’ OK, it’s all resolved now.” I don’t think the democrats would have the fortitude to pursue it, and I’m absolutely certain the media would switch to more important stories such as who Elon Musk is impregnating, now, and what racist ideologue wore a cool hat to a horse race in England. It’s as if the Trump team realized that they could bury the incident but, instead, decided to embark on a year-long campaign of trolling the FBI.
The latest movements in the case are, simply put, weird as fuck. Apparently Trump was using the secret documents he stole as ego-stroke pills, bragging about things he knew to guests at his cheesy Mar A Lago
tourist spy trap. The latest revelation is that some Australian guest was grabbed by Trump and told a few secrets about US nuclear subs, including (allegedly) the number of warheads one typically carries, and the estimated detection distance that a Russian sub can locate them. If you google “how many warheads can a US Polaris submarine carry” you’ll learn an answer. Is it the answer? Probably, because in principle such things are declared as part of various international agreements. The other detail? Probably irrelevant – the Russians no longer field enough subs to try to pre-empt US ballistic missile boats and a US sub would hear them coming a long way away and be somewhere else in short order. This information is stupid. Of course, Trump is still stupid to disclose it, but it’s painful to watch everyone start screaming about “threats to national security” when we’re talking about information that is accessible through a google search. [What’s more interesting is how far away one of the Swedish or Japanese hybrid Stirling-engined subs could track or follow a US ballistic boat, and we can be pretty confident that test has been made, too: you park silently in the water and listen for when the sub’s commander clangs it into something, apparently.]
We’re going to have to listen to a whole bunch of outraged punditry about the significance of these leaks, but really the only significance that they have is: how stupid they are. Geezus, christ, just drop Trump in an oubliette for being a noisy jackass, already, and save us all from this national nightmare.
The next part that I think is extremely weird is the way everyone is completely accepting the narrative (apparently commonly agreed-upon) that introducing the secret documents as evidence against Trump is hard and requires cleared people and a SCIF, etc. In fact, the entire trial is being held up on that point, thanks to the cooperative Judge Cannon, who is apparently willing to help Trump stall. But none of this makes sense, either. Trump’s team doesn’t need to see the documents; they don’t need clearances – it’s not as if they are going to argue “no, your honor, this one document that says TS/SCI on it is Trump’s McDonald’s order, we move to dismiss!” There are plenty of documents and all that would be necessary would be something like bringing in a witness who can testify that the documents are secret, and – done. I.e.:
Prosecutor: “Please state for the court your name, and job title.”
Witness: “Bond, James Bond, I am an intelligence officer at MI6, on liaison with CIA on behalf of the crown.”
Prosecutor: “I understand that you hold a variety of top secret clearances, including a ‘license to kill’.”
Witness: “That is correct. Though my license does not apply in Washington, DC.” (laughter)
Prosecutor: “Very well. If you look at Exhibits A-Z that are arrayed on the evidence table over there, what is your immediate impression?”
Witness: “I see a bunch of folders marked with classification codes and stickers.”
Prosecutor: “That assessment is based on your experience with classified materials?”
Witness: “In my normal duties, I handle top secret information all the time. I also create it – every report I write is classified. I spend way too much time locking and unlocking safes and signing in and out documents, when I really should be out … you know, killing people.”
Prosecutor: “Since you are cleared for that material, and we have arranged with the site security officer at CIA who owns those documents, for you to be cleared to examine them – would you please go over to the table and take a look at each of the documents in turn. Do not tell the court anything about the contents other than whether or not you assess that it is, in fact, sensitive national security information.”
Witness: (goes over to the table, flips open Exhibit A) “crikey.”
Prosecutor: “Can you translate that to American, please?”
Witness: “Certainly, ‘holy shit.'”
Prosecutor: “What about Exhibit B?”
It’s not as if the defense would be able to make any kind of relevant argument that somehow the documents were not actually national security information, because the next witness would be:
Prosecutor: “Please state for the court your name, and job title.”
Witness: “My name is withheld under seal. But my job title is ‘Special materials archivist, Central Intelligence Agency.'”
Prosecutor: “Do you know what a SCIF is?”
Witness: (chuckling) “I specify the construction and operation of SCIFs.”
In computer security, there’s a term of art, which is an “oracle” – an oracle is a process that can accurately disclose a single piece of information. If you have an oracle, you can often eventually break the system, but you have to ask it a lot of questions to do so. For example, asking Bond “is that national security information in that folder?” 26 times discloses 26 smallish facts. If someone tries to squeeze too much information out of an oracle, a well-constructed system will shut it down, or rate limit it.
Imagine if there was a murder, and the prosecution introduced the murder weapon (a bloody samurai sword) as evidence. Immediately, the defense (in this case) would insist that they needed to see someone’s head cut off with it, and they needed to train until they were 3rd dan kenjutsu practitioners, before they could accept it as evidence. It completely belies the fact that courts accept evidence that is not complete, all the time. That is, in fact, what courts do, and how they work.
So, that brings me back to the Mar A Lago situation: why is everybody involved in the situation basically playing stupid? Trump’s team have offered nothing but affirmative defenses, so far, basically admitting “yeah, he did it, but…” and it’s so obviously a delay game that pundits are now predicting the Trump team’s next move in terms of ‘what will take longest.’
Everyone knows Trump did it, and everyone knows that mere mortals like Julian Assange, Reality Winner and Chelsea Manning were less flagrant but still wound up in torture conditions at the hands of the government. Let’s all stop flapping our hands and doing a goony bird dance, get the trial going shut up about it.