Of documents, balloons and laptops

 

February 17, 2023



(JNS) — Come on. Be honest. Surely someone reading this is hoarding a keepsake from the Eisenhower administration, stashed away in the attic. Better check, because you might be in violation of the Espionage Act. It seems that anyone who’s anyone, and even a few nobodies, is in possession of state secrets with classified markings and fuzzy provenance.

Secure facilities are so yesterday. Nowadays, top-secret documents apparently have feet and simply slip away to improbable locations.

That’s the only conclusion one can reach now that we know both presidents Trump and Biden were in unlawful possession of such confidential material. So, too, was Vice President Mike Pence. The documents in Biden’s think tank offices and homes date back to when he was vice-president and senator. 

Take a guess at what Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have been up to these past several weeks—on their knees desperately searching under mattresses, climbing ladders to scan the tops of bookcases and generally casing the joint. No former statesman wishes to be included in this evolving list of presidential purloiners of documents that belong to the National Archives.

Yes, it is true that Biden has been cooperating fully with federal authorities, while Trump, predictably, has been evasive and obstructionist. Yet that doesn’t explain why Biden’s personal attorney, without national security clearances, was permitted to rummage around for documents all by himself, with no FBI oversight. Moreover, given these recent disclosures and the FBI’s Normandy Landing appearance at Mar-a-Lago, was it absolutely necessary to conduct a nighttime raid on Trump’s home as if he was the head of some South Florida drug cartel?

Ironically, pursuant to the Presidential Records Act, Trump, as a former president, at least had a colorable claim to having a possessory interest in documents created during his presidency. No such allowance exists for former vice presidents and senators, however.

And we haven’t been told why these classified documents are so secret in the first place, or whether they should be designated as such. President Obama himself once quipped: “There’s classified, and there’s classified.” His point being: Some stuff is meant only for the eyes of those in the Situation Room. Other documents marked classified can actually be shared by people eating at the White House cafeteria.

We have no way of knowing whether these documents include nuclear codes, or recipes for apple pie à la mode. The House Intelligence Committee will be conducting hearings this week and perhaps we’ll find out.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice, in conducting its investigation of Trump, made clear that removal, possession and the mishandling of these documents—whether classified or not—all by itself, triggers the Espionage Act. That was disappointing news. Apparently, Trump wasn’t involved in some classic Cold War caper with sinister spies flashing “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” tradecraft. We were kind of hoping that the Espionage Act indicated, well, espionage—á la Boris and Natasha. Instead, we were told that Trump didn’t have to sell state secrets or destroy classified documents in order to violate the law. 

So when President Biden proclaims, “there is no there there,” and that the garage that warehoused both his coveted Corvette and mildewing documents was “locked,” or that their misplacement was “inadvertent,” pursuant to the DOJ’s own prosecutorial parameters, none of these are exonerating in any way.

But perhaps most troubling: Are we only now coming to learn that classified documents went missing and no one responsible for their whereabouts knew anything about their disappearance? Take notice: Every man and woman is now on their own to safeguard their Social Security numbers. No one, apparently, is minding the store.

We’re like a country that can’t find its keys. 

A lot of weirdly mysterious stuff is happening these days. For instance, we’re fighting a competing superpower’s balloons? Seriously? First it was the Wuhan Virus; now it’s the Chinese Hindenburg? With all those flight simulator skills our kids have acquired from playing video games, and with “Top Gun: Maverick” breaking box office records, our dog fights have come down to this?

Before shooting it down with one of our air-to-air Sidewinder missiles, perhaps we should have first sent up our Elmo or Lilo & Stitch Thanksgiving Day balloons, as helium-filled emissaries. 

Perhaps we’re suffering from a post-COVID breakdown, a laxity and carelessness provoked by having spent the first two years of the coronavirus in lockdown. We don’t know how to do much anymore other than test for Omicron and binge on streaming channels. Our political, corporate and sexual imaginings and intrigues have been confined to “Game of Thrones,” “Succession” and “Outlander,” respectively. Without our screens, we’re lost.

Which brings me to the mother of all misbegotten screens—Hunter Biden’s laptop, which in some bizarre way, links all of these sordid stories. After all, the younger Biden had access to his father’s disseminated documents. He had keys to the think tank at the University of Pennsylvania. He also lived and paid rent in the very homes where all these sets of documents resided, too. He even had keys to the garage and Corvette.

Meanwhile, the think tank was partially funded by Chinese donors, and millions of dollars flowed to Hunter Biden and his uncle, the president’s brother, from Chinese energy firms and other businesses, raising the serious specter of influence peddling—in which Attorney General Merrick Garland, remarkably, has shown very little interest. Of a further compromising nature, Hunter apparently had ties to Chinese intelligence officials.

Is that the reason why we’re not supposed to associate COVID with the Wuhan lab, and why the Chinese balloon floated across the American horizon for days before it was shot down off the coast of South Carolina?

What’s contained in that laptop may answer some of these questions. At the very least, we’ve been assured that the sexual content on that hard drive is far more salacious than anything viewable on “Outlander.”

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and distinguished university professor at Touro University, where he directs the Forum on Life, Culture & Society. He is the legal analyst for CBS News Radio. His most recent book is titled Saving Free Speech… From Itself.

Originally published by Jewish Journal.

 

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