Republicans dismiss Trump's classified docs scandal: 'A lot of people they think break the law they don’t go after'
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

WASHINGTON — A new court filing by the Justice Department indicated that they and the National Archives believe that there are still documents that Donald Trump hasn't turned over despite the subpoena and search warrant. One of the things the DOJ listed in the papers obtained from Trump was at least 48 folders marked “classified” but which were empty.

One former aide to Trump suggested that Trump could have taken documents to the homes of his children or his country club in New Jersey. In a letter sent last week from the House Oversight Committee, Chairperson Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) asked that the National Archives if they would request a "personal certification" from the former president that he has turned everything over.

Republicans have largely dismissed the urgency to handle the national security component of the scandal. Classified and top secret information is never allowed outside of a secure location, known as a SCIF (Sensitive compartmented information facility). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), for example, called it nothing more than a "storage issue."

Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) said that it's "still an unfolding story" and claimed it wasn't all that dangerous because Mar-a-Lago is protected by Secret Service. On multiple occasions, the "secure" location has been infiltrated by people with nefarious intent. One woman from China made it past several Secret Service checkpoints with "two Chinese passports and four cellphones, a laptop and USB drive later found to contain some kind of malware," reported Politico in 2019 while Trump was still president. "More devices and $8,000 in cash were later found in her room at a nearby hotel."

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More recently, and after his presidency, Trump and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) were duped by a self-confessed grifter pretending to be a member of one of the wealthiest families in the world. Inna Yashchyshyn has been connected to a "fraudulent charity, posed as a member of one of the world’s most famous banking families, gained access to Donald Trump’s Florida home, and mingled with top Republicans," reported the OCCRP and The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

"I'm sorry it got to the point that it did. I don't think it was helpful," Cole said about the 18 months of negotiation between Trump and the National Archives. "You know, it's gonna raise questions. It's never happened in American history before and we're, Trump people can say, 'Well, we sent a lot of stuff back when we were talking to them.' And then we hear — look, anything that happens 90 days before an election — and the day before the — so, what was so important to get this close to the election to act? If you needed to do this, couldn't you do it three months earlier? Or three months later? It just, ya know, again, it's just been poorly handled optically. But that doesn't mean that there's no merit to the concern. So, we'll see as more facts come out we'll know more."

Cole went on to criticize Attorney General Merrick Garland for showing up to the press conference around the incident 45 minutes late and refusing to answer questions. The Justice Department doesn't generally speak out about ongoing investigations. He then said that the issue was the same as Secretary Hillary Clinton.

"I mean, they destroyed hard drives! At least they're getting the documents back in this case! Anyone get prosecuted for that? Any search warrants for that?" Cole claimed. It's also generally the process to destroy electronics that store information to ensure that the information on them isn't accessible to anyone else, Wired explained at the time.

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Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) agreed, calling the document theft nothing more than politics, saying he's "never seen anything like it before."

Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) said that he isn't exactly surprised by what happened with the documents because the past six years of Donald Trump's behavior has shown "that most of my Republican colleagues will be silent about or try to justify. We know exactly what they would have said had a Democratic done the same thing. Because for something that is far, far, less serious, Hillary Clinton was using a private server, they're still talking about it. They weren't particularly interested in due process for Hillary Clinton. They were about locking her up."

Cole went on to say that he questions the "upper management" of the FBI and the DOJ. He went on to claim Garland "poisoned politics." He also complained that the DOJ could have waited until after the election. The prosecutors who went to the judge with evidence had the added problem that they didn't fully understand the extent of the document theft. "I'm not one bit surprised, because they have abandoned all principle and consistency."

Rep. John Katko (R-NY) was more willing to admit to the seriousness of the scandal.

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"Whether we like it or not, presidents and ex-presidents are held to a different standard," he said. "I don't know if that standard has been altered or not but time will tell."

Rep. Himes agreed that there are serious implications to prosecuting a former president, but explained that "not prosecuting a president who broke the law would be a dagger in the heart of our system, which is based on the idea that every one of us is equal before the law."

He was asked what would happen if there were documents that were still missing and refused to speculate that there are.

Rep. Long went on to say that there are "a lot of people that they think break the law that they don't go after. It may depend on if you're Republican or Democrat. The Democrats they don't go after and the Republicans they do — it's pretty obvious."

Rep. Himes (D-CT) explained that as a "serial liar" people can't necessarily trust whether Trump is being honest if he says that he doesn't have any more documents. Already Trump has been caught lying about the documents. His attorney Christina Bobb issued a statement to the court claiming he didn't have any more docs and they'd all been returned. The FBI then issued the search and found many boxes more.

"I trust that the FBI did a thorough search of Mar-a-Lago but what about the other residences?" asked Himes. "Any member of the intelligence committee who removed a document from the SCIF would be instantly taken off the committee and probably subjected to disciplinary action. One document. One secret document, much less one that's TS/SCI. We spend a lot of time worrying about the words that we use and what we talk about. I don't think anybody dreams of taking classified information out of the SCIF. Once it's out you can't control it."

Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) called the whole incident "scary" because "we know he doesn't tell the truth. He's probably, again, lying about why he couldn't appear before the grand jury because there were secret service concerns. Turns out there weren't." He reinforced that no person should be above the law, particularly the president, because America isn't a monarchy with the president as a king.

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) said that he wouldn't speculate on whether there are more documents in Trump's possession, "but the fact that we don't know is what's concerning. This is incredibly sensitive information that — sources alone — if they know, if potential sources know that information like this might not be protected, why would they want to risk their lives?"

He also said that sources and methods should never be politicized and that history is filled with informants that helped save the world. He cited Russian Col. Oleg Penkovsky, who gave the United States intelligence on the Soviet ICBM range. It prevented the U.S. from a nuclear war.

Lawmakers in the "Gang of Eight" are still demanding that there be a classified briefing on the problems caused by Trump's theft of the documents.

With additional reporting by Matt Laslo