WASHINGTON — It’s shocking how easy it is to imagine Donald Trump campaigning for the presidency from prison.
He’d have the joint wired, like the mob guys in “Goodfellas.” He’d be enjoying all kinds of privileges, DJing Elvis and Pavarotti; getting a steady flow of Viagra, cheeseburgers and conjugal visits (not from Melania). Maybe he’d even be able to smuggle in his special Tang-colored hair bleach.
It wouldn’t be the first time someone tried for the White House from the Big House. In 1920, after being imprisoned on sedition charges for excoriating American involvement in World War I, which he considered a capitalistic war, Eugene Debs won about 900,000 votes as the Socialist Party nominee.
“I will be a candidate at home in seclusion,” he joked when asked how he would campaign. “It will be much less tiresome, and my managers and opponents can always locate me.” He was allowed to give one bulletin a week to the United Press. With Trump, it will be Newsmax.
Trump wouldn’t be in prison for sticking by his principles, though. He’d be in prison because he has no principles. We’re watching him spiral down to his essence. At bottom, he’s a humongous, dangerous liar and a criminal. As Logan Roy would say, this is not a serious person.
The dramatic unsealing of United States of America v. Donald J. Trump is a fitting switch. Until now, it has been Donald J. Trump v. United States of America. He tried to engineer a coup against the government he was running. I bet Jack Smith will be bringing those charges later.
The special counsel made it clear that this isn’t just a “boxes hoax,” as Trump called it. You can’t purloin classified documents; leave them in the gilt-and-crystal glare of the bathroom, shower, bedroom and ballroom at Mar-a-Lago; and show them off to remind people how important you are. Trump’s ego is his greatest weakness. He couldn’t resist self-aggrandizing. Hey, I got these secret documents.
The indictment — charging Trump with violating the Espionage Act and other laws — offered devastating photos of America’s secrets stacked up like something on “Hoarders,” spilling out under the dry cleaning, a guitar case and other items.
“The classified documents Trump stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries, United States nuclear programs, potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack,” the indictment said. “The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military and human sources and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods.”
Well, that’s bad.
The indictment is based on information from Trump’s own lawyers, staffers, phone records and security cameras. This isn’t the work of some insider or Trump hater who’s out to get him. And it makes clear that there was a very deliberate effort by Trump to hold on to and conceal these documents that he was going to use for heaven knows what and show to God knows whom.
The former president directed his valet, Waltine Nauta (named as a co-conspirator with Trump), to move about 64 boxes from a storage room to Trump’s residence and bring about 30 boxes back to the storage room — without informing the Trump attorney who was supposed to be reviewing the material.
On top of that, the attorney said, Trump later encouraged him to go through the documents that he did review and pluck out anything really bad. Trump even made a plucking motion.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump was always boasting about his devotion to protecting classified information, to mock Hillary. The prosecutors thoughtfully included some of his old comments, like this one: “In my administration I’m going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.”
Those statements obviously carried the same weight as his 2016 comments vowing to be so busy as president that he would never play golf. What an utter phony.
The Republicans who jumped out in front of the indictment to defend Trump should be ashamed. Unfortunately, shame is long gone from the Republican Party, except for a vestigial smidge in Mitt Romney’s office.
Up until now, Trump has managed to slink away from innumerable seamy episodes, from bankruptcies to vile personal misconduct, by proclaiming himself a victim.
I was trepidatious, after watching the lame performances of James Comey and Robert Mueller. But Jack Smith seems to be bringing an impressive skill set and temperament to his prosecution of Trump. Maybe he developed them in his years nailing war criminals at The Hague.
In his brief appearance at the Justice Department Friday afternoon, Smith emphasized the risks that this kind of mishandling of sensitive information poses to the people who have volunteered to protect us.
He praised the F.B.I., the agency that Trump and the Republicans have been trying to tear down and defund, saying the agents there work “tirelessly every day, upholding the rule of law in our country.”
Republicans used to embrace the rule of law. Now, many describe the Jan. 6 rioters as martyrs and say Trump shouldn’t be prosecuted. Kevin McCarthy called the indictment “a dark day for the United States of America.”
But Smith is intent on reminding Americans that the rule of law is a fundamental tenet of our country.
Trump ranted on Friday about Smith being “a deranged psycho.” Naturally, he also attacked Smith’s wife, the award-winning documentarian Katy Chevigny, who produced a documentary about Michelle Obama and contributed to Joe Biden’s campaign, as “the biggest Hater of them all.”
But Smith is not likely to be cowed. The guy’s tenacious. In an interview a few years ago, Smith discussed his passion for Ironman competitions. He talked about the time he got hit by a truck while riding his bike and fractured his pelvis. He was back doing a triathlon 10 weeks later.