WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2022
Lawrence hears confession: How many "boxes of top secret material" can be found on the head of a pin?
For the record, Lawrence was educated by the almost Jesuits before moving on to Harvard. Last evening, on The Last Word, he didn't specify the number of boxes, but he did offer this:
O'DONNELL (8/16/22): Last week was the worst legal week of Donald Trump's life, and so far this week is just as bad. Because Donald Trump learned today, just today, that his top lawyers in the White House have both spoken to the FBI about everything they know about the boxes of top-secret material that the FBI found in their search of Donald Trump's home.
To watch Lawrence's opening monologue, you can just click here. Move to the 5-minute mark for that particular passage.
For the record, we know of no basis for saying that Donald J. Trump "learned today, just today," that those lawyers have spoken to the FBI about the topic in question.
Trump may have known that all along. Lawrence was working off a news report in the New York Times—a news report which makes no claim like the one Lawrence advanced.
That said, how about the claim we've highlighted? How about the claim that the FBI found "boxes of top secret material" when they searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago home?
As far as we know, no one has ever said that the FBI found "boxes of" such material. More careful reporters have generally described the FBI's haul in the manner shown below, at the start of a New York Times front-page report:
HABERMAN ET AL (8/13/22): Federal agents removed top secret documents when they searched former President Donald J. Trump’s Florida residence on Monday as part of an investigation into possible violations of the Espionage Act and other laws, according to a search warrant made public on Friday.
F.B.I. agents seized 11 sets of documents in all, including some marked as “classified/TS/SCI”—shorthand for “top secret/sensitive compartmented information,” according to an inventory of the materials seized in the search. Information categorized in that fashion is meant to be viewed only in a secure government facility.
In total, agents collected five sets of top secret documents, three sets of secret documents and three sets of confidential documents, the inventory showed. Also taken by the F.B.I. agents were files pertaining to the pardon of Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime associate of Mr. Trump, and material about President Emmanuel Macron of France—along with more than a dozen boxes labeled only by number.
More careful reporters have generally said that the FBI removed five "sets" of top secret documents. Such reporters have made no attempt to quantify the number of documents found in each set, or to report the total number of pages these five sets of documents contained.
(Presumably, there could be thousands of such pages. Or there could be twenty.)
Did the FBI actually find entire "boxes" of top secret material? That makes it sound like they found rather large volumes of such material—material sufficient to fill five separate "boxes," cartons of undisclosed size.
It's always possible that something like that will turn out to be true. But to date, there has been no reliable evidence to that effect.
It could turn out that the FBI found massive volumes of top secret documents in last Monday's search. It could also turn out that they found a much more limited amount of such material—that they found five slender "sets" of such documents, scattered in among a bunch of dinner menus, weather maps and letters from North Korea.
The inventory released last Friday doesn't make such matters clear. But our regimen of 24-hour, round-the-clock news now sells scandal as news product—basically, as its only product—and certain tribunes have occasionally put their thumbs on the scales, making it sound like Mar-a-Lago's dank wine cellar contained entire boxes bursting with such material.
On Monday night, Don Lemon said that the FBI found "33 boxes of classified material" in last Monday's search. We'll guess that's simply inaccurate.
Last night, Lawrence failed to name a specific number of boxes, but he specifically cited "top secret" material, thereby restricting his account to the highest level of classification.
He said the FBI found an unspecified number of "boxes" (plural) of such "top secret" material. Careful reporters have only said that the FBI found five "sets" of such documents, with the size of each set undefined.
How much top secret material did the FBI find at Mar-a-Lago? Did they find a lot or a little?
The day may come when we all know the answer. As of today, we can't really say.
That said, Lawrence was on a roll last night, working from that news report in this morning's Times. Concerning that news report, a bit more must be said:
For starters, the New York Times didn't seem to think that its report contained some sort of bombshell disclosure. In this morning's print editions, the report appears on A19, the sixth page of the National section.
Maggie Haberman wrote the report. She doesn't report, at any point, that Donald J. Trump has now "confessed" to a crime.
That's the principal claim Lawrence made last night—and he based his claim upon Haberman's report.
Lawrence was stretching matters a great deal, thereby thrilling viewers. Did he deliberately place his thumbs on the scales? We wouldn't assume that he did.
Much of modern-day "cable news" is built upon wishful thinking. It's tribes gone wild, tribe at war against tribe—Mad magazine's Spy vs. Spy.
For the record, Lawrence stretched the known facts in various ways last night. Here's a fuller record of what he said at the five-minute mark of his opening monologue:
O'DONNELL: On June 3, when officials with the Justice Department's national security division went to Donald Trump's Florida home to collect documents, one of Donald Trump's lawyers signed a statement saying that all the material with classified markings had been returned. But that statement wasn't true.
That lawyer now has a decision to make. Take the fall for the crime of lying to the FBI and the crime of concealing illegally obtained government documents, or tell the Justice Department the whole truth about the documents that were found in the FBI's search.
That was thrilling stuff. It was based on the conflation which is central to Lawrence's ministry—the conflation according to which every inaccurate statement will be described as a "lie."
Uh-oh! If Trump's lawyer believed his statement was true, he wasn't telling a lie. And dagnab it! If the lawyer wasn't lying, he couldn't be forced to "take the fall for the crime of lying to the FBI."
As far as anyone knows at present, the situation is much more complex than Lawrence's presentation suggested. But Lawrence was dispensing pleasing news product, possibly having been swept away by partisan dreams of conquest.
There's no "confession" by Donald J. Trump found in this morning's new report. That's why the news report appears on page A19.
Beyond that, Trump's lawyer may not have known that his statement was inaccurate, It's even possible that Trump himself didn't know, as of June 3, that classified materials were still present at Mar-a-Lago!
(It's also possible that the facts will turn out to be totally different. It could turn out that Trump was selling top secret material, that very day, to some foreign power!)
Matters like these aren't known as yet, unless you're watching cable. If you're watching our tribe's cable, Donald J. Trump has confessed to a crime, in addition to which at least one of his lawyers will soon be frog-marched away.
On blue tribe cable, people like Lawrence and Lemon thrill us with their embellishments and their conflations. On red tribe cable and on the red Net, you'll hear every manner of ludicrous claim about the way the jackbooted thugs rifled through Melania's negligees and undermined the republic.
You'll also hear such things on C-Span's Washington Journal. We now live in two separate worlds, driven along by wholly separate regimes of fact.
What did the FBI actually find in their search of Mar-a-Lago? While we're at it, why were any top secret documents located there at all?
At this point, such questions can't exactly be answered. Unless you're watching cable news, or unless you're listening to us the people making our phone calls to C-Span.
Tomorrow: Attention, C-Span shoppers!