Data Wonk

Wisconsin’s Banana Republicans

Why are Grothman, Johnson, Michels defending Trump’s illegal hoarding of top secret files.

By - Aug 17th, 2022 01:34 pm
Glenn Grothman, Ron Johnson and Tim Michels.

Glenn Grothman, Ron Johnson and Tim Michels.

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.”

The article quotes criticism from US Representatives Tom Tiffany and Grothman, who compares the US to a “banana republic.” Derrick Van Orden, the Republican candidate for the 3rd Congressional District is quoted as saying that he woke up in the morning in the US but is unsure where he will sleep that night.

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.

A week after the FBI search, Tiffany and Scott Fitzgerald joined 16 other far right US representatives in a letter demanding “all documents and communications” related to the search.

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.

The assumption of Trump and his defenders is that the president is above the law—that the rules that apply to a young engineer do not apply to the head of government. I would hold that such a system is the very definition of a “banana republic,” that there is one set of rules for ordinary citizens, which members of the elite are exempted from.

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.

Categories: Data Wonk, Politics

5 thoughts on “Data Wonk: Wisconsin’s Banana Republicans”

  1. Ron Johnson is quoted as stating that Mar-a-Lago a “pretty safe place” to store sensitive documents. This is not true–personal homes are unacceptable places for classified document storage. Ron Johnson serves on U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs and should know this. It is deeply troubling that he would give out a false impression. This is yet another example of a “RoJoism,” or a tactic of using misinformation for political gain. Ron Johnson is following in the footsteps of Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy who has permanently shamed Wisconsin with the word McCarthyism.

  2. kaygeeret says:

    More evidence that these guys want a fascist state – in which they will, of course, be the dictators.

    Honestly, their outrage, clutching of pearls, etc. is getting boring.

    About the only interesting thing is to wonder how they will lie and lie and lie again.

  3. ringo muldano says:

    All of these muffin tops are guilty of seditious conspiracy. Line ’em up. Shoulder-to-shoulder.

  4. frank a schneiger says:

    People in America toss terms like “Nazi,” “communist” and “fascist” around so loosely that they lose their effect, which becomes dangerous when the real thing comes down the road. But Kaygeeret’s use of the term “fascist” is on target.

    The standard work on fascism is Robert Paxton’s “The Anatomy of Fascism.” In the book, Paxton asks “What is Fascism?” Here is a summary of his answer: “A sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions”; “the primacy of the group,” (in our case, white Americans); “the belief that one’s group (white Americans) is a victim, a sentiment that justifies any action, without legal or moral limits”; “dread of the group’s decline under the corrosive effects of individualistic liberalism, class conflict and alien influences”; “the need for closer integration of the purer community….”; “the need for authority by natural chiefs (always male)…capable of incarnating the group’s historical destiny…and the superiority of the leader’s instincts over abstract and universal reason”; “the right of the chosen people to dominate others…”; and, finally, “the beauty of violence….”

    A pretty good fit with the current Republican Party and the followers of Donald Trump, with the added feature of the malignant narcissism that defines the Republican leadership group, starting with Trump, but including people like Johnson, Hawley, Cotton, Cruz and a host of others.

    It’s important to remember that the fascists and Nazis always have lots of followers, people who tend to have short memories when things turn out badly, which they always do.

  5. Duane says:

    From Donald Trump’s “Law & Order” speech given in West Bend WI on Aug 16, 2016

    “In my Administration, I am going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.”

    “I’m not part of the corrupt system. In fact, the corrupt system is trying to stop me”.

    The hilarious transcript in available online. (Almost as hilarious as Ron Johnson asserting that Mar-a-Lago is “secure”. Yes, plan your wedding, private party, dining experience, or golf outing at our secure 114 room oceanside resort). What has the FBI been doing all this time?

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