Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Narratology: Twelve More Boxes

Emptywheel's got a convenient list of documents the FBI might have been seeking in Palm Beach:

  • The transcript of the “perfect phone call” with Volodymyr Zelenskyy and other documents pertaining to his first impeachment
  • Notes on his meetings with other foreign leaders, especially Vladimir Putin and Saudi royals, including Trump’s July 16, 2018 meeting with Putin in Helsinki
  • Information surrounding the Jamal Khashoggi execution (and other materials that make Jared Kushner’s current ties to Mohammed bin Salman suspect)
  • Policy discussions surrounding Qatar, which tie to other influence peddling investigations (for which Barrack asked specifically)
  • Intelligence reports on Russian influence operations
  • Details pertaining to security efforts in the lead-up to and during January 6
  • Intelligence reports adjacent to Trump’s false claims of election fraud (for example, pertaining to Venezuelan spying)
  • Highly sensitive NSA documents pertaining to a specific foreign country that Mike Ellis was trying to hoard as boxes were being packed in January 2021

I wouldn't have been able to do such a good job, but I'm embarrassed I didn't try to do it at all. It brings into excellent focus an idea that has been trying to worm itself through my brain since last May or so—that the "highly classified" material concealed in the basement storage room at Mar-a-Lago includes direct evidence of Trump committing crimes, like above all the records—memcons—of those Trump-Putin phone calls, of which Politico wrote, back in February 2021,

Memcons, including Trump’s calls with Putin, are considered presidential records, and were not expunged before the 45th president left office, one former Trump White House official said. They were transferred to the National Archives and Records Administration at the end of Trump’s term, as is customary.

“Of course we didn’t delete anything and they would be in NARA and accessible,” the official said.

Except, as we know now, stuff that the archivists were expecting to find turned out not to be in NARA and accessible at all, which is how it was discovered that Trump had stolen it and was keeping it in Florida.

What kind of stuff? As Kash Patel told Breitbart in May, the classified material (which he claimed Trump had secretly declassified anyway), was just

 “...information that Trump felt spoke to matters regarding everything from Russiagate to the Ukraine impeachment fiasco to major national security matters of great public importance — anything the president felt the American people had a right to know is in there and more.”

That certainly sounds like stuff I'd be interested in, but the Former Guy hasn't shown any signs that he's interested in having the American people look at it. But it's a much more plausible idea of the kind of thing Patel and Ezra Cohen-Watnick and other minions embedded into the national security apparatus might have been able to source and box up than the national secrets for sale of which some commentators have spoken, or the "dirt" I was imagining they might be looking for on Trump's perceived enemies; with documents incriminating Trump, they'd know exactly what they were looking for, with dates and subject matter. 

In any case, by then Trump was under criminal investigation for the mishandling of the documents, at NARA's instance, and the public information flow stopped. The FBI seems to have concluded that the 15 boxes of materials that had been sent from Mar-a-Lago to the Archives in mid-January 2022 (after about seven months of stalling) did not represent the whole stash, and CNN has reported that on June 3 they sent a team of four investigators (including DOJ counterintelligence chief Jay Bratt) to Mar-a-Lago to meet with Trump's lawyers, make it clear to them that retaining classified documents was a serious federal crime (whatever Kash Patel may have thought) and see what was going on.

The lawyers took them to a basement storage room where they indeed found something like another 12 boxes, and noted that some of these documents, as with the previous batch, did appear to be marked classified. Five days later the lawyers got a letter asking them to padlock the room to ensure that nothing would be tampered with, and following that, as you know, prosecutors obtained the search warrant that was executed Monday. 

So it's at least possible that there is now a formerly lost or vanished memcon of

  • the first Trump-Putin conversation at the Hamburg G-20 summit, on July 7, 2017, the day before the New York Times broke the story of the June 2016 meeting between Trump Junior and Natalya Veselnitskaya, the conversation for which Trump seized the translator's notes;
  • the call of March 20, 2018, in which Trump congratulated Putin on his reelection to the Russian presidency, in spite of the briefing notes reading "DO NOT CONGRATULATE", and tentatively invited him to the White House;
  • the Helsinki meeting of July 16, 2018 after which Trump told the assembled dignitaries and press that Putin had been "very strong and powerful" in denying Russian interference in the 2016 election and that he "didn't see any reason" why Russians would do such a thing, in spite of the US Intelligence Community's formal position that they had in fact done it;
  • the calls with Putin of May 3, 2019, shortly after Volodymyr Zelenskyy's election to the presidency of Ukraine, and July 31, three weeks before Trump's attempt to bribe Zelenskyy into giving him bogus "dirt" on Hunter Biden; and
  • the never officially announced one Trump is said (by filmmaker Alex Holder) to have made to Putin on October 25 2020, just a week before our own election, following press reports of Putin denying that there was any illegality in Hunter Biden's business dealings in Russia and Ukraine (Trump may have lost his temper with Vova on that one).

Just for instance. And not even beginning to talk about Kushner matters. We're talking violations of the Presidential Records Act, or the more serious mishandling of classified material, but we're likely looking at evidence, as Marcy says, of for-real espionage. 

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