Republicans don’t want to talk about the national security cost of Trump’s document theft

Republicans don’t want to talk about the national security cost of Trump’s document theft

At this moment, thanks to a twisted ruling from a Trump-appointed judge, the Department of Justice can’t use the classified documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago in its ongoing criminal investigation. However, intelligence agencies are still working to respond to what was found in an unsecured store room, in a faux-leather cardboard box kept on a shelf in plain view, and in the drawers of Donald Trump’s desk.

The impact on national security is hard to overestimate. Whether or not Trump actually shopped this highly classified information—including  military and nuclear secrets of at least one foreign nation—the intelligence community has to treat all of it, all of it, as compromised. 

However, as CNN reports, when it comes to the national security implications of what Trump has done, Republicans have nothing to say. In fact, most Republicans are unwilling to even face what Trump was keeping handy in his office. They’re willing to pretend that executing a valid search warrant after more than a year of attempting to obtain documents by other means represents some kind of dire threat. But actual dire threats … documents? What documents?

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Here’s a quick review of what Republicans have to say about news that Donald Trump had 103 highly classified documents in his possession, including documents classified as top secret human intelligence, military intelligence, and even nuclear weapon-related intelligence.

Josh Hawley: “I don’t know what he has or doesn’t have … Some of it depends on if you declassified them or not, the procedures are, what’s in the documents. I don’t know.”

As a bonus, Hawley replied that former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger took classified material home and “nothing was done to him.” Let’s reach back to 2006 and see what “nothing” looks like. Berger faced a single charge of unauthorized removal and retention of classified material, each with a potential sentence of a year in prison and up to a $100,000 fine.

Ultimately, Berger was fined $50,000, stripped of all access to classified information, and ordered to perform community service while receiving a suspended sentence. So … that kind of nothing.

Meanwhile, Marco Rubio continued to argue, “This is really, at its core, a storage argument that they are making. I don’t think a fight over storage of documents is worthy of what they have done, which is a full scale raid.” Because, obviously, if Donald Trump had kept top secret information about the military capabilities and nuclear weapons of a foreign power in a better box, this would all be fine.

This really does seem to be a situation in which Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks for all Republicans.

Mitch McConnell: “I don’t really have any comments on this whole investigation that’s been dominating the news for the last month.”

Of course, that’s not true when it comes to attacking the FBI and Department of Justice, which have become standard stump speech material for Republicans across the country and the 24/7 purpose of right-wing media. At his Wednesday night rally, Trump provided an update on GOP talking points by saying: “The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical left scoundrels lawyers and the media who tell them what to do and when to do it.”

What has Donald Trump’s theft of national security information cost? At a bare minimum, all human intelligence sources involved will be lost. Where possible, those sources may be exfiltrated from hostile nations, but more often they will simply be abandoned. Because from now on the intelligence community will have to assume that anything learned from those sources is compromised and may represent false information. 

Every document that involves some sort of technological means of data collection, whether that’s listening in on military radios or looking down from a surveillance satellite, will need to be reviewed. In some cases, those systems will be lost. In others they’ll be abandoned because, as with human intelligence, if an enemy knows the U.S. is listening in to a certain communication channel, that represents a perfect opportunity to use that channel as a pipeline for false information. Assumptions will also be made that enemies have increased awareness of the U.S. ability to monitor their activities. At the very least, the value of every system involved will be diminished.

The cost of Donald Trump’s theft will be measured in billions. And in lives. And it will take decades for American intelligence to recover. And that’s the best outcome.

If information from these documents really did get spread around, then those costs could seem trivial.

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