Friday, August 12, 2022

A Tempest In A Teapot On A Mountainous Molehill

      The supporters of Mr. Trump are outraged over the FBI executing a search warrant, and claim it is pure politics; the people who are not fans of him seem to be thinking, "They've got him now!"

      The reality is likely to be None Of The Above.  The warrant and search appear to be utterly by-the-book, fairly dull routine -- except for the fact that it was one of the homes of a former President getting searched.

      Given the personalities and backgrounds involved, the whole thing is predictable and is likely to be far less exciting than any of the headlines imply.

      On one side, we have the National Archives -- historians with the full force of the Feds behind 'em, and a Congressional mandate to preserve everything to do with running the country.  It's a felony to mishandle such records, and has been since about midway through Mr. Trump's Presidency.  (It was a slightly lesser crime before that.)  And next to them, the security apparatus of the Federal government: detail-oriented, obsessed with chains of custody, and smarting badly after Secretary Clinton evaded them.

      On the other side, a President without prior political experience.  He hasn't got that ingrained notion of historical legacy that results in Presidential Libraries with row upon row upon row of filing cabinets holding everything from signed treaties to bubblegum wrappers.  He's a businessman -- and in the business world, the value of yesterday's memo or notes from settled contracts is zero if not negative.  If you get a testimonial-type letter from another Captain of Industry, you might frame and put it on the wall, and you may even take it with you when you change jobs or retire.

     So these sides do not have anywhere near the same expectations.  Their habits are entirely different.  And when it comes to sheer stubbornness, Donald Trump and the Federal bureaucracy are both masters of the art.

      That's really all it takes.  At a point fairly late in the Trump Presidency, the National Archives people became aware that the White House was not, in fact, handing documents in the way the archivists expected and believed was required by law.  We can safely assume that the Security types spend most of every Administration running around with their hair on fire over who can see what and how many copies of it there are and so on.  So they're already in 24/7 OMG mode.  Then the ungraceful transfer of power occurs, with about six hours for the denizens of the White House to pack up and move out....

       We know there were multiple boxes of documents, etc. that Mr. Trump's people took and later handed back; we know negotiation over other such material was ongoing, and given the pre-existing mutual distrust and suspicion, there is no reason to think those talks were being conducted in a solution-oriented atmosphere of mutual amity over cups of warm cocoa.

      So we shouldn't be surprised that Federal archivists and/or security people decided the only way forward was to get a warrant listing the stuff they believed Mr. Trump still had, and which they wanted back ASAP.  This morning, the news is talking about "nuclear papers," but I'm willing to bet even that will be about as thrilling as a detailed report on the heating, cooling and ventilation system of a large office building rather than the sort of double top-secret bomb plans James Bond keeps enemy agents from sneaking through the Iron Curtain.  It's still nothing we'd like Vlad or Xi to lay eyes on and I'd hate to have the blood pressure of the people responsible for keeping it secret, but its possible presence in a box at Mar-A-Lago is much more likely to be the result of sloppiness than skullduggery.

      So what we're going to have will be a seven-day or fourteen-day furor on the news networks and at political rallies, with a lot of posturing about an "out of control FBI," "politicized DOJ," "traitorous President" and so on and so forth -- and the reality is, it's a bunch of stubborn jerks and dull, dry bureaucrats, all being exactly what they are.  That's not going to keep the most wild-eyed from getting all lathered up (and you can count on the usual demagogues to throw gasoline on the fire), but it looks like the substance of the matter, while serious enough, is not nearly as big a deal as everyone would like it to be.

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