WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2022
Inquiring minds want to guess: How large was the volume of top secret material found at Mar-a-Lago?
While we're at it, why were any such documents at Mar-a-Lago at all?
Regarding the first question, we just saw CNN's Alisyn Camerota describe the volume roughly as follows—the FBI found "something like twenty boxes of highly classified materials" in its search of Mar-a-Lago.
(We'll post the exact transcript when it becomes available.)
For the record, the "box" is not a standard unit of measure! Still, Camerota's statement makes it sound like the FBI found a very large volume of "highly classified material" when it conducted its search.
In all honesty, Camerota has no obvious way of knowing that statement is true. (Where did she get the number twenty? We have no idea.)
We humans! Anthropologically, we're "the story-completing animal"—the creature inclined to draw conclusions before we can know what's true.
We're disinclined to acknowledge how many things we don't know. Socrates noted this tendency long ago, when he described his fruitless search for the wisest man [sic] in Greece.
We humans are strongly disinclined to say that we don't know. Instead, we rush to complete the story in ways which fit our preconceptions. Our thumbs go clank upon the scales, creating a story we like.
This brings us to a letter which appeared in yesterday's New York Times. Essentially, the writer is trying to figure out why there were any top secret documents at Mar-a-Lago at all.
The writer rambles the countryside before stating his basic point. Essentially, he thinks Trump was (likely) planning to sell highly classified documents to the highest bidder:
To the Editor:
As a defense for moving reams of highly classified documents to his home, Donald Trump and some of his allies have begun floating the defense that he had “declassified” these documents.
Setting aside for a moment the highly dubious merits (and truthfulness) of that argument, I’d like to see Mr. Trump have to answer a simple question: Why? Why would Mr. Trump declassify some of the most sensitive and highly protected U.S. information for all eyes to see?
Why would he declassify documents that could contain information related to highly sensitive sources and methods, secret weapons technology, the names of covert agents and possibly even secrets related to our nuclear programs?
Isn’t that extraordinarily dangerous? Couldn’t countries hostile to the U.S. use that information to their advantage? How does any of this make America safer?
I’ve yet to hear an explanation from Mr. Trump and his allies regarding the “why” question. I doubt any coherent explanation will be forthcoming.
Personally, I don’t believe the declassification defense. I think there is a much simpler and far more realistic explanation. Mr. Trump took the documents for the same reason he does everything—for money. He likely sees the documents as “his” property that can be sold, leveraged or used in other ways to generate income for himself.
What keeps me up at night is the knowledge that copies of some of these documents may already be in the hands of some very bad actors.
M— S— / Newbury Park, Calif.
The letter writer is underwhelmed by the (transparently implausible) claim thar Trump automatically declassified a wide array of highly classified documents. Eventually, he states his basic belief about the motive behind these events:
"Mr. Trump took the documents for the same reason he does everything—for money. He likely sees the documents as 'his' property that can be sold..."
Does that explain why those documents were present at Mar-a-Lago? We'd have to say it's one of the possibilities, but it's only one.
In fairness, the letter writer only says that this is the "likely" explanation for the presence of the documents. Beyond that, he says the documents may be in the hands of bad actors by now, not that they definitely are.
Still, what makes him think that he can "likely" puzzle this out? What makes the New York Times decide to publish a rather long letter built on pure speculation?
Were lots of top secret documents found, or were there a relative few? Beyond that, why were any such documents at Mar-a-Lago at all?
The first part of a logical answer is this:
At present, we simply don't know! We don't know how many documents were found, and we don't know why they were there.
That said, we humans are strongly disinclined to say that we don't know. In this circumstance, we're strongly inclined to pretend we know how many highly classified documents the FBI hauled out. Also, we're strongly inclined to think we can puzzle out the reason why the documents were there.
We've been wrong many times in the past on matters of first impression. We were wrong about the Duke lacrosse case. We were wrong about the UVa gang rape.
Most people now seem to think that we were wrong about the Steele dossier. Our wishful impressions have often been wrong, but we just keep churning them out.
Readers, listen up!
At present, we don't know why the documents were there. If we wait, it's always possible that some day we'll find out!
Our sources: Remember, it's all anthropology now. These musings came to us from experts.
For extra credit only: On yesterday's Deadline: White House, John Bolton was asked if he thought Trump took the documents for the purpose of selling them on the "black market."
This was Bolton's full reply:
"I don't think he's capable of holding an attention span that long."
For ourselves, the answer would start like this: We have no way of knowing.