TUESDAY, AUGUST 30, 2022
Scarborough defines total down: How many top-secret documents did Donald J. Trump take to Mar-a-Lago?
In the end, the precise number may not matter all that much. Within our failing information systems, almost nothing does.
But as we watched the first few minutes of Monday's Morning Joe, we saw Joe Scarborough seeming to define the number down. Here's part of what he said:
SCARBOROUGH (8/29/22): You look at what we're talking about here. As Mika said, 184 classified markings on documents.
Twenty-five documents marked "Top Secret"—25! Sixty-seven marked "Confidential." Ninety-two marked "Secret."
And yet, there always seems to be this process of defining deviancy down for Donald Trump, regardless of whether it's his dealings in the 2016 campaign with Russia, dealings that—actually, a Republican committee said it caused grave counterintelligence risks. Or whether you take these documents—
You know, there are a lot of Republican senators and members of Congress—I know this as a former member of Congress that, if we had mishandled documents, if we'd taken one document, one top-secret document, let alone 25, or ten documents with classified markings, the FBI would be at our house the next day.
And all of these senators and all of these members of Congress who are suggesting, or newspaper editorialists who are suggesting it is much ado about nothing, they'd all be in jail. They would all be in jail.
That was Joe Scarborough, four minutes into Monday's program. From his remarks, a viewer would have thought that Donald J. Trump had taken 25 top-secret documents with him to Mar-a-Lago.
(To see a similar oration from yesterday's show, you should click here, then move ahead to the 3-minute mark. We believe this oration came at the start of the 7 A.M. hour.)
Almost surely, the specific number of top-secret documents doesn't really matter. Within our rapidly failing systems, almost nothing does.
That said, what is the actual number? Did Donald J. Trump take twenty-five (25) top-secret documents to Mar-a-Lago?
That's what Scarborough seemed to be saying. In fact, the actual number of top-secret documents seems to be substantially larger than that.
Scarborough was taking his numbers from the Justice Department affidavit which was released last Friday. But that affidavit only listed the numbers of classified documents which were returned to the National Archives in January 2022.
According to widely accepted reporting, some additional number of top-secret documents were handed over to Justice Department officials in a subsequent personal meeting on June 3, 2022.
Beyond that, five "sets" of top-secret documents were recovered in the search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month. (As far as we know, the total number of top-secret documents in those five sets has never been revealed.)
In short, the total number of top-secret documents recovered from Mar-a-Lago seems to be well more than 25. But Joe and Mika never noted this basic fact as they took text off the teleprompter following what may have been a long, lazy summer weekend.
Over the weekend, we saw many broadcasters who seemed to present the numbers from the DOJ affidavit as it they represented the total number of classified documents in question. We'd seen this done so many times that we were especially struck when we saw Scarborough seem to do it, even as he savaged Trump.
Again, the numbers Scarborough listed were just the numbers from the first batch of recovered materials. Two more tranches of classified documents have been recovered from Mar-a-Lago—first in June, then in August—as this past year has dragged by.
How many top-secret documents did Trump really take? As far as we know, an accurate number isn't available yet—but the number isn't 25. Plainly, the total number is larger than that. Journalists should know enough to articulate that basic fact.
As you can see from the text above, Scarborough complained about the way various people "define deviancy down" when it comes to Trump. He himself was "defining documents down" as he lazily worked from the copy which had appeared on his prompter.
How many top-secret documents did Trump take to Mar-a-Lago? The number seems to be substantially larger than 25, unless you're watching the highest end of American journalism at work.
Storyline is easy and fun. But as we've noted in the past, statistics can be very hard.