Wisconsin’s Banana Republicans
Why are Grothman, Johnson, Michels defending Trump’s illegal hoarding of top secret files.
The recent search by the Federal Bureau of Investigation for government files illegally stored at former President Donald Trump’s house in Florida has created outrage among some Republican politicians, including those in Wisconsin. Consider this press release from Congressman Glenn Grothman whose district includes many Milwaukee suburbs:
“I continue to be astounded at the degree to which the values of our Republic seem to be eroding,” said Grothman. “The blatant politicization of the Justice Department that we have seen play out over the past several years, culminating in this unprecedented raid on a former President’s home, has led to more and more of my constituents telling me that they are afraid America is in deep danger.”
Grothman neglects to mention that this “raid” was “unprecedented” because no previous president saw fit to take boxes of top secret files with him when leaving office.
Grothman was not alone in claiming the FBI’s action was driven by partisan politics. Reporter Lawrence Andrea quoted Senator Ron Johnson describing the search as “one more example of our two-tiered system of justice,” further claiming that the government will “weaponize” the IRS agents provided in the Inflation Reduction Act against “their political enemies.”
On the morning of August 9, primary election day, Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels tweeted: “If the federal government can do this to a former president, imagine what they can do to you. People are right to be concerned. Rebecca Kleefisch is wrong to stay silent.” Later, this tweet disappeared, likely reflecting a recognition that a defense of Trump’s moving files to his home, while helpful in the Republican primary, may hurt in the general election.
One argument implicit in Tim Michels’ tweet and many of the other criticisms is that the FBI’s action is a threat to ordinary citizens. However, most citizens do not take government documents–many classified–and move them to their homes.
An article from the Voice of America describes 11 cases of what happened to people who do so:
While such a search of a former U.S. president’s residence would appear to be unprecedented, investigations into the removal or unlawful retention of classified information is not. Since 2005, the FBI and the Justice Department have launched at least 11 such investigations, some targeting high-profile former U.S. officials, including a former national security advisor and a former CIA director.
These cases include Sandy Berger, President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser, who pleaded guilty to knowingly removing classified documents from the National Archives and Records Administration and removing handwritten notes in violation of the Archives’ policy. Berger paid a $50,000 fine and gave up his security clearance for three years.
Another well-known case involved retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus, a former CIA director. He pleaded guilty to one count of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material. The plea followed revelations that Petraeus shared some of the materials with his biographer and mistress. Petraeus was sentenced to two years of probation and a $100,000 fine.
Trump’s defenders and Trump himself note that he is the first president accused of taking classified documents to his home. But they skip over the fact that he is the first president discovered to have done so.
The government’s warrant lists the files of documents seized from Trump. Here are those found to have been classified:
- 14A, 19A, and 25A – Miscellaneous Confidential Documents
- 10A, 15A, and 23A – Miscellaneous Secret Documents
- 11A, 13A, 26A, and 28A – Miscellaneous Top Secret Documents
- 2A – Various classified/TS/SCI documents (the abbreviation stands for “top-secret/sensitive compartmented information”).
While in college, I spent two summers working at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. Later I worked at the GE Missile and Space Division. In both cases, some of the information I needed was contained in documents that were classified as secret. Both my colleagues and I clearly understood that these documents were not to be taken off the premises.
By taking the documents to his home, it is clear that Trump, like Berger and Petraeus, broke the law. Both men paid hefty fines, but neither served a prison term.
What is unknown at this point is why Trump decided to break the law. My guess is that doing so was the result of his sense of entitlement combined with his sloppiness and his belief that as president his power was absolute. What is frightening is how many people, including a substantial portion of the Wisconsin Republican political establishment, share that view.