Trump's disinformation wizard publishes worst children's book of all time

The devastating photo that went viral last week of the "Top Secret" markings on documents that the FBI found in its court-approved Aug. 8 search of Donald Trump's office speaks a thousand words about a former president's utter carelessness with national security secrets.

The photo was part of a Justice Department court filing on Aug. 30. The documents were apparently found in Trump's personal office drawer, with his passports, and then placed on the floor for photographers.

Trump has already given his response, blaming the FBI for placing the documents on the floor and claiming that they were declassified — which is almost certainly untrue, and largely irrelevant. His point man for the latter claim has been Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes who has become a key Trump operative.

Patel has been all over the media, claiming that Trump declassified the documents. That purported wave of a magic wand doesn't eliminate the possible harm to the nation from national security secrets in the documents getting into the wrong hands.

Not to mention that in Trump World, reality and Trump-Patel spin-magic have little in common. Here's the reality: As a 2020 federal court of appeals case states, "Declassification cannot occur unless designated officials follow specified procedures . . . Because declassification, even by the President, must follow established procedures." Those procedures are highly detailed and limit the president's power to declassify. Neither Trump nor Patel say anything to suggest those procedures have been followed.

In addition, declassifying documents relating to nuclear secrets — documents which the Washington Post has reported were targets of the FBI search — involves a complicated process that Patel doesn't mention.

Perhaps most notably, in his latest legal filing, where it matters if you lie, Trump doesn't even claim to have declassified the documents. If all that weren't enough, declassification doesn't even matter under the Espionage Act, whose probable violation the search warrant alleges. The statute criminalizes possessing documents, whether classified or not, if they "relate to the national defense" and were officially requested to be returned.

Last year, a military officer who knew Patel in the Defense Department told national security columnist David Ignatius that Patel was a threat to lawful government. Indeed, in November 2020, immediately after Trump's election defeat, he named Patel as acting Pentagon chief of staff, meaning that he was strategically placed when the DOD slow-walked the National Guard response to the Capitol attack of Jan. 6.

Two sources also told Ignatius that the Justice Department was investigating Patel's "possible improper disclosure of classified information." Small wonder that he's Trump's point person on the subject.

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Patel has a knack for telling political tall tales. Earlier this year, he tried to monetize his political fables, and his connections to Trump, to indoctrinate young readers, publishing a MAGA polemic disguised as a children's book called "The Plot Against the King."

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It aimed to plant in youthful brains the idea that the FBI investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign's coordination with Russia was without merit; in the book, it's presented as the wicked plot of "Hillary Queenton" against good "King Donald."

In the real world, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's 478-page report, released in December 2019, debunked the lie that the FBI lacked a legitimate basis to open an investigation of the Trump campaign. The predicate for beginning the probe was a July 2016 tip from an Australian intelligence official that a Russian operative had offered a Trump campaign volunteer "dirt" on Hilary Clinton.

That crucial fact earned no place in Patel's indoctrination tract for kids Believe it or not, in his book the wizard "Patel" is the one who foils evil Hillary's plot.

Q: How do you know when a book is all about the ego of the writer?
A: When he anoints himself the story's hero.

Not that Patel would care about this, but partisan politics do not belong in young children's books. Shannon Hayes, an upstate New York farmer and mom who homeschooled her kids, has written that kids don't need political literature because "[t]hey naturally understand how to be kind and accepting, until a grown-up teaches them something different."

Patel's book is a model for teaching children something different than kindness. If he tries to explain why the Top Secret documents spirited away from the White House by Donald Trump posed no risk of harm to the nation by being left around unprotected in a Palm Beach resort, expect something different than truth.

By Kate McMullan

Kate McMullan is a New York writer of children’s books and the author of "This Is The Tree We Planted."

MORE FROM Kate McMullan

By Dennis Aftergut

Dennis Aftergut, a former federal prosecutor, is currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

How Merrick Garland turned the tables on Trump — and made Trump's supporters look like fools

After Monday's FBI search of Donald Trump's home at Mar-a-Lago, Trump blasted out the news of the unprecedented intrusion on a former president's residence. He asserted that it was politically motivated.

But late on Thursday, the Washington Post reported that "sources familiar with the investigation" say that "classified documents relating to nuclear weapons" were among the materials the FBI search was seeking. The Post's sources did not say whether the agents found such materials.

One source, however, told the Post that among the 15 boxes of materials recovered from Mar-a-Lago in January was material that included "signal intelligence," that is, "intercepted electronic communications like emails and phone calls of foreign leaders."

The Post report surely caught Trump's allies off guard, after many had amplified his claims earlier this week. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, for instance, that Garland should preserve all documents relating to the search and clear his calendar for hearings after the midterms if Republicans, as expected, take control of the House.

Sen. Marco Rubio described the warrant-based search as sponsored by "Marxists." After the Post story, it may be awkward watching him wipe that egg off his face.

Republicans had also mounted an unrelenting public pressure campaign to force Garland into a press conference justifying the search. On Thursday, Garland did exactly that, turning the tables on his attackers with the tactical skill and aplomb of Gen. George Patton.

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Garland needed to abide by Justice Department norms, which generally preclude discussing details of an ongoing investigation while still responding to the attacks upon him, the Justice Department and the FBI.

At the same time, Garland was also eager to avoid becoming the next James Comey. As I observed in Salon on Thursday, Comey came under intense public criticism, and rightly so, for acting contrary to Justice Department norms about not revealing details about pending investigations of a candidate — Hillary Clinton, of course — during an election season.

The current attorney general rose masterfully to the challenge on Thursday. He established that the department had proceeded by the book. He recounted that, to get the warrant, the FBI's sworn affidavit had to establish to an independent federal magistrate judge's satisfaction that there was evidence of a crime and that the evidence would be found at Mar-a-Lago.

Even before Thursday evening's Post report, anyone paying attention understood that this was no ordinary search warrant. Intruding on the residence of a former president is no small matter. The magistrate judge authorizing the warrant would have applied the most rigorous review to ensure that there was solid evidence of a crime.

News reporting tells us that previous voluntary requests, followed by a grand jury subpoena, failed to produce the classified documents that the government believed had been improperly stored at Mar-a-Lago. So the DOJ took the next necessary step to protect national security.

At Garland's press conference, he also made clear that the Justice Department had no intention to disclose Monday's search or anything about it, until Trump revealed it himself.

Trump evidently had his own reasons, including a perceived fundraising opportunity, for making the search public and blaring out his grievance as a purported victim of government oppression. Predictably, his congressional allies and his political base rallied to him, which may well have energized his presidential campaign hopes for 2024.

Here is where Garland turned the tables on Trump and seized the high moral ground. Acknowledging the public statements made by a Trump representative about the search, Garland announced on Thursday that the Justice Department had moved in court to unseal the search warrant and allow it to be made public, making clear that he would not have done that but for Trump's public statements.

The attorney general was careful to say nothing more about the investigation than what the public already knew. The warrant and attached materials, should the court allow their release, will do the speaking for him.

Trump is now caught between a rock and a hard place. He is not likely to want the "inventory" of items that the FBI seized on Monday revealed or he would have done it himself; after all, the agents left a copy with his lawyer at Mar-a-Lago. On the other hand, opposing the motion to unseal the warrant and the inventory would add mightily to suspicion that he had indeed improperly kept state secrets and would prefer to keep that hidden.

He has until 3 p.m. on Friday to decide what stance to take in court.

In the meantime, the twice-impeached ex-president has chosen the safe and familiar course: distraction On his Social Truth media site, he posted: "Does anybody really believe that Joe Biden and the White House knew NOTHING about this great embarrassment to our Country?"

Perhaps the only surprise in all this was his failure to include another familiar meme: "But her emails!"