How many documents did Donald Trump take?


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.


  1. "From his remarks, a viewer would have thought that Donald J. Trump had taken 25 top-secret documents with him to Mar-a-Lago."

    Meh. From his remarks a viewer would have thought that Donald J. Trump had taken 25 documents marked "Top Secret".

    Whether those documents actually were "Top Secret" at the time The Commander took them -- or at any time thereafter -- that, dear Bob, remains, alas, undetermined from the remarks of your dembot clown.

    1. The commander would have to change the markings and go through some other procedures (via staff) in order to declassify a document. Some had to be jointly reviewed in order to be declassified, which did not happen. Mao is a Russian troll spreading Republican disinformation.

    2. Anon 2:31, up to the last sentence of your post, you may be communicating valid info. But calling the guy a "Russian troll" seems to be dumb, just name calling.

    3. Arguing with a troll is also dumb. Do you not believe in troll farms? The Mueller report documented their existence, funded by Russia.

    4. Mueller dropped all the charges against the Russians.

    5. Mueller had the impossible task of differentiating Russian troll farms from the official Republican Party.

    6. Russia was sanctioned, in part because of the troll farms, but also because of the hacking.


  2. Mao Pig, none of that stuff should be at his tacky resort, so it may not help much when we get the full story.

  3. "Almost surely, the specific number of top-secret documents doesn't really matter. Within our rapidly failing systems, almost nothing does."

    Sentence one, about the number of documents, does not lead to sentence two, about everything else. Almost surely, many things matter, especially within "rapidly failing systems," whatever those are in Somerby's mind.

    Who would describe our systems as failing when they have successfully recovered classified documents from a criminal president who thinks he is above the law? Our systems are investigating our ex-president and he will be held accountable -- or else that will be the time for Somerby to lament their failure.

    When Trump is indicted and tried, the exact number of documents may or may not be revealed, but why is it hard for Somerby to grasp that the vagueness here may come from the intelligence services, not from the reporters?

    Has any district attorney charging a suspect with murder ever had to specify the exact number of droplets of blood spilled to the press, in advance of any charges being brought? Of course not. And that is why Somerby's entire complaint here is specious. Somerby himself counsels patience and yet display none before calling the press various names.

    Scarborough is quoted as saying: " 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. "

    That doesn't mean he is definitively limiting the number of stolen top secret documents to 25. It means he is saying he would have been punished for taking even 1.

    Somerby knows this, but his goal is to tar Scarborough, so he deliberately misinterprets what he said. And that is dishonest, but also pretty typical of the way Somerby rolls these days.

    Somerby says that as far as "we know" an accurate number isn't availabe for the total documents stolen by Trump. That is almost certainly not true. The archives know and the investigators know and most likely Trump knows. It is the public who doesn't know. Somerby doesn't know and the press isn't reporting it. There are plausible reasons based on national security for withholding an exact number.

    Meanwhile, our crazy former president is demanding that he be reinstated as president. Shouldn't that be of greater concern to Somerby than Scarborough's example, in which he said he would be in trouble if he took EVEN ONE FRIGGIN' DOCUMENT, and don't forget, it doesn't have to be classified to be a violaton of the law.

  4. "Storyline is easy and fun. But as we've noted in the past, statistics can be very hard."

    For the record, there were no statistics discussed in Somerby's post. The number 25 is a piece of data, an observation, a count, a measure of how many documents were taken. It is not a statistic, strictly speaking.

    What is a statistic? A statistic is a number that describes the properties of a set of data, observations, numbers, counts, measurements. It is a number measuring and describing the properties of a bunch of other numbers. Examples of statistics are average, mean, std deviation, range, variance.

    "data are individual pieces of factual information recorded and used for the purpose of analysis. It is the raw information from which statistics are created. Statistics are the results of data analysis - its interpretation and presentation."

    Statistics are especially hard if you don't know what a statistic is, compared to a number that is merely a quantity. They teach students this distinction on day one of a stats class. Somerby was no doubt absent on that day, given his self-described college record.

    When Somerby poses as some sort of expert on stats (by virtue of criticizing others and saying how hard it all is), he creates the impression that people who DO know what they are talking about may be equally unreliable in their statements. That would be a wrong conclusion. Most people who talk out of their asses are fake, like Somerby, which is why we have such a thing as college degrees and job titles, to help the less expert public tell the people who know their stuff from the posers who did a little standup comedy and think they can tell Descartes from Wittgenstein. Somerby is as fake as Trump.

  5. I admit it. Bob has become so dull on the subject (he may be waging a pro Trump war of attrition that weaponizes boredom) that I wish he would take on Hunter Biden.
    Hunter is currently presenting the mainstream media's pro Trump counter story. As with many an accusation against Bill Clinton, it may draw strength from it's utter lack of substance., putting the other side in the position of
    proving a negative. Bob might be interesting on the
    subject, but since he wont watch the Right Media,
    he has no way of commenting one way or another.
    But we may get there if things keep looking bad for

    1. Hunter Biden is a private citizen with no connection to the government. He has never run for office, much less held public office. At some point, hopefully, he will sue someone for defamation. I'm not sure that ignoring the crazies is really the best way to deal with them, based on the success of the suits against Alex Jones and those who defamed Dominion systems.

      Hunter Biden is irrelevant. Perhaps the Democrats believe that focusing on him will divert energy from other right wing activities, such as supporting their midterm candidates.

    2. I don’t want the Dems to focus on this. It would be interesting to see Bob write about it. The media is trying to use it to “balance” Trump’s crimes.


    Trump is calling for reinstatement as president. If he thinks that can happen, he is cognitively impaired. If he doesn't think it can happen, then he is calling for the overthrow of the government and that is sedition. Jonathan Last argues that these are the only two options.

    When will our nation take Trump seriously as the threat to our national security that he actually poses?

    Someone who is calling for himself to be made president by fiat stole top secret documents while abandoning traditional US allies and cozying up to dictators. But we think he is just a goofball? When will Trump be stopped from disrupting our democracy and endangering our nation. Maybe Somerby's complaint about "failing systems" is valid, except that clearly isn't what he has ever talked about here. Trump is not joking. Why is he still walking around outside a cell?

  7. Trump is going crazy on Truth Social today, retweeting Q-Anon memes and aiming his supporters against targets. These aren't the actions of a someone running for office. If Trump has flipped out, does that excuse whatever crazy things his followers do in his name?

  8. Paul Campos (LGM) says:

    "One of the eternally puzzling things about Donald Trump is the fact that he is an increasingly unhinged demagogue who was president of the United States and could well be again is treated as basically normal, as if this is just one of those things that happens sometime, and therefore doesn’t deserve any special attention or comment..."

    "...In a healthier political system, every single Republican office holder and candidate would be asked over and over again to denounce the effective leader of their party. In fact they should be asked pretty much nothing else.

    But of course that’s not our system, and the fact that Donald Trump is a deranged narcissistic authoritarian with frankly delusional beliefs about everything, to the extent he can even be said to have beliefs, and is at the same time the leader of one of our two national political parties, has become in some indescribably perverse way completely normalized."

    And that has been one of Somerby's jobs here -- to normalize Trump and excuse his behavior. Somerby refocuses us on how many documents are classified, directing our attention away from Trump's crime. No other president has ever stolen classified documents at the end of his term, like Trump has. And we are deflected from considering the seriousness of Trump's act, presented as crazy and thus inexplicable, instead of focusing on what Trump took those documents for, what he plans to do with them, and how our national security may be imperiled given that all of Trump's foreign friends are nasty dictators from authoritarian regimes.

    This is not normal and we are right to be concerned about what Trump did and why!

    1. This is a prime example of the commentary of anonymices.

      Anonymouse 3:15 pm says that Trump is delusional and then argues that Somerby has tried to “normalize” Trump’s deranged behavior.

      This, after hundreds of anonymouse posts arguing that Somerby’s focus on Trump’s mental health is an attempt at exculpation.

      Next, the anonymouse argues that Somerby’s desire to know the specifics and the extent of Trump’s wrongdoings is an attempt to…wait for it…distract from Trump’s crimes

      It’s not enough that in the midst of calling Trump an authoritarian we have to be regaled with the demand that everyone who supported him now be compelled to publicly denounce him. I suppose we should hurriedly do that before the FBI pays us a visit as with both Trump and Mark Zuckerberg.

      Before you get kicked off Twitter, as with Trump and the New York Post.

      You could save a lot of paragraphs if anonymices would settle for yelling “Up!” when Somerby said “down” or “white!” when he says “black”, and it would make no more or less sense sense than the stuff they type now.

    2. Somerby pretends Trump is eccentric and not a criminal menace to national security.

    3. Cecelia,
      Do with Anonymouses what I do with Conservatives. Agree with them. They hate it so much, they'll start arguing against their own point within seconds. Of course, this only applies to their red herrings, and not to their bigotry, which is the only thing they truly believe.

    4. Anonymouse 5:18pm, you’re invested in pretending that Bob doesn’t know the difference between eccentricity and antisocial personality disorder, because Bob doesn’t tell you how wonderful you are.

    5. No, it is because Somerby doesn't acknowledge how bad Trump is.

    6. As though anonymices haven’t been haranguing Bob for a decade.

    7. If Bob was really a Right-winger he’d be crying about how he’s a victim, not have Cecelia do it for him.

  9. The actual document count is actually harder to do than meets the eye! A classified document may well contain numerous sections that have a lower classification than the overall document. For ease of handling, such documents can be split into multiple sections, with only the highest classified sections needing to be handled as highly classified material.

  10. From Daily Kos:

    "“Bothsiderism,” in which media outlets bend over backwards (and beyond) in order to find something they can slap Democrats over before daring to point out Republican actions, is one of the most corrosive tendencies plaguing the press. Also known as “false balance,” it happens when journalists attempt to make everything “equal” between the two parties, no matter how unequal statements or actions may actually be.

    Anyone looking for an example need look no further than an article published by CNN under the utterly baffling title of “Talk of street violence and 'semi-fascism' turns up midterm election heat.” The epic mismatch of terms in the title is accompanied by an article that can’t really decide where it stands. Yes, those darn Republicans have genuinely initiated violence, and that’s scary. Sure, they’re threatening to get violent again. But … wouldn’t it be better to just look the other way rather than calling them out?

    It’s just another in a series of pieces that suggests holding Donald Trump accountable for his crimes, and Republicans responsible for their threats, is what’s really “dividing the nation.” Which is a none-too-subtle suggestion from the media that Republicans are above the law.

    The idea that investigating or prosecuting Trump for his crimes is a problem is so deeply embedded in the media at this point that that NBC is actually using Lester Holt telling Attorney General Merrick Garland that “the indictment of a former president, perhaps candidate for president, would arguably tear the country apart” as a promotion for their evening news. "

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