New York Post, June 13, 2023
Trump indictment shows federal secrecy gone wild makes political lies — like Biden’s — harder to uncover
by James Bovard
Former President Donald Trump was indicted last week on 37 federal charges tied to his possession and mishandling of classified documents. Critics assert Trump betrayed his oath to uphold the Constitution. But the uproar ignores how federal secrecy gone wild is spawning a caste system that betrays our democracy — and makes political lies almost irrefutable.
The media are struggling mightily to create a good vs. evil storyline from Washington’s latest sordid saga. A New York Times editorial ludicrously contrasted Trump’s behavior to that of “responsible public servants like Mr. Biden.” The Times neglected to back up that claim with a witness statement from the Corvette in President Joe Biden’s Delaware garage, where the FBI found classified documents stashed in December.
According to most media coverage, the federal charges are about Trump’s false statements, his buffoonish squirreling away boxes of documents and his moronic twaddle — such as claiming a president can declassify a document “even by thinking about it.”
There are some military secrets whose disclosure by a former president or anyone else deserves the full wrath embodied in the federal statute book. But it is unclear from the Justice Department’s revelations thus far that Trump crossed any such line.
Secrecy epitomizes Washington elitism. Almost 3 million federal employees are approved to access “confidential” or “secret” information while almost 1.5 million have been approved to view “top secret” information. Any breach of those restrictions turns the malefactor into the legal equivalent of Benedict Arnold.
Among the specific charges against Trump is that he showed “a classified map of Country B” to a person who did not have a security clearance. And the world ended, right?
Trump is accused of violating the byzantine rules on the handling of government documents. The indictment quotes Trump prattling to a visitor about a document from a Pentagon official: “He said that I wanted to attack [Country A]. This was the Defense Department. . . . This wasn’t done by me, this was him.”
Was the Justice Department outraged that Trump may have considered going to war without a declaration from Congress — as the Constitution requires? No. Prosecutors were aghast that Trump showed pages to someone not properly vetted by the feds. If an insider leaked the same document to The Washington Post, it likely would have been DC business as usual instead of the near-death of the republic.
The Justice Department shows more concern for federal prerogatives than for self-government. The indictment condemns Trump for possessing documents “implicating the equities of multiple [US Intelligence Community] members and other executive branch departments and agencies.” Does the Justice Department believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies have a property right in those documents that Trump somehow violated? Can private citizens apply for some “equities” in government documents?
There are plenty of laws to protect government secrets but no law to protect democracy from federal secrecy. The feds create trillion of pages of new secrets each year. Every page is treated as a holy relic that cannot be exposed without damning the nation. The system automatically absolves any federal official who creates new secrets, thereby exempting federal agencies from oversight. The feds are likely committing more crimes than citizens will ever know.
The abuse of secrecy has become so flagrant that even CNN hinted at the problem in its annotation of the Trump indictment. CNN noted, “It’s worth mentioning that the US system for classifying material is so complicated that it should probably be revisited” — preferably after Trump is convicted, right?
The pervasive secrecy in Washington empowers politicians to expose and protect who they please. Trump is charged with obstruction of justice, but Attorney General Merrick Garland faces no legal peril regardless of how many Biden crimes he covers up. And the Justice Department can prosecute any whistleblowers who expose its whitewashes.
The battle over federal secrecy could determine the fate of Biden’s presidency and re-election campaign. Congressional committees are demanding documents on the disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Food and Drug Administration’s rushed approval of COVID vaccines, the coverup of the Wuhan lab leak, the role of undercover federal agents in the Jan. 6 Capitol Clash and the tsunami of federal censorship. And congressmen are curious about the $5 million bribe Biden allegedly received from Ukraine and why the FBI evidence vanished. Biden administration officials will invoke the same prerogatives to keep secrets from Congress that Justice Department attorneys will use to prosecute Trump.
Trump’s guilt cannot absolve a system that increasingly presumes citizens have no “need-to-know” what Washington is doing. When only 1% of the populace is permitted to access endless classified information, the vast majority of Americans have been classified unfit to judge their own government.
This legal caste system can’t be reconciled with democracy. When did “informed consent” become defined down to paying, obeying and wearing a federal blindfold?
James Bovard is the author of 10 books and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.