Why were the documents there at all?


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.


  1. Bolton's response sounds about right. This is costing Democrats and for no good reason other than soothing balm for an emotional response to Trump. When the evidence comes up eye-rolling for everyone but the people interested in the January 6 circus, Trump will glide into the GOP nomination and likely an election victory.

    1. "no good reason"
      The money we save not having courts and prisons will more than pay for themselves.

    2. What January 6th circus do you mean?
      If there was one, it was drowned out by the whining and crying from Right-wing snowflakes about black peoples votes counting in the 2020 Presidential election.
      No investigation was needed to discover that all Republicans are bigots. Everyone (including the Right-wing corporate media, Donald J Trump, and the entire modern Conservative movement already know fact without an investigation piling on.

    3. Forcing every Republican candidate to denounce America's justice system , which imprisons black people at such a high rate, is the smartest way to depress the Republican vote. What are we waiting for?

    4. "This is costing Democrats" is probably one the dumbest statements ever offered. Right up there with "Bolton's response sounds about right".

      Even a modest, cursory look into how modern electoral politics works, and how Trump operates, would disabuse one from making such a moronic claims.

      Somerby is right, we don't know why the Saudis gave Trump's son-in-law $2 Billion dollars. We don't know, but we should and part of the process of finding out is informed speculation.

  2. Bolton has actual experience with Trump, unlike Somerby. I am willing to believe that he knows more.

    The Steele dossier was largely substantiated by our intelligence services but Somerby suggest the truth ought to be a matter of majority vote — what “most people” (e.g. Republicans) think.

    I can wait to hear more about whether Trump sold documents or used them to spite others, but it is indisputable that he took them and thus broke the law. I will wait to hear his sentence but as of now, I believe he is a criminal. Somerby can hold his breath if he wants, but he doesn’t dictate my relationship with facts and truth, nor should he tell you what or how to think.

  3. If Trump sold me one of those documents, I would have a way of knowing. Somerby is wrong to assume we all know as little as he does, especially when he insists on knowing so little.

    Why do we need to decide anything about Trump? Because very soon there will be elections in which some of us may need to decide whether to support a Trump-enabler or a Trump-accuser. Neutrality may not be a viable position, long before we get final word anout why those docs were at Mar a Lago. Somerby would love it if we all stayed home from the polls out of indecision.

  4. I’m no puppet, you’re the puppet! Has Somerby forgotten that moment?

  5. The January 6th investigation is Democrats just piling on.
    Everyone already knew every Republican voter is a bigot.
    The Left already knew it. The Right already knew it. The media already knew it. Those who deny it publically, already knew it.
    Even a shit for brains, like Bob Somerby, already knew it.

    1. Hello to you,

      Sometimes a well-timed and brilliantly placed (and peculiar) fanny-burp is all that is needed to add some clarity to a moment of confusion.

      A slip of the fanny can offer incredible wisdom to the producer.

      When in doubt, fanny-burp it out.

    2. A person on average, even celebrities and super models, passes gas about 12-25 times per day.

      Our bodies are poorly designed, gas in our digestive system is very uncomfortable and never leads to clarity. We are left wondering: What did I eat? Am I ill? Did anyone hear that? Do I need to poop? Should I call in sick?

      Right wingers are definitionally racist; that's not the result of passing gas, that is from their undying need for dominance.

      Get your head out of your ass. Free your mind and your ass will follow, fool.

  6. Don't listen to Right-wing lies. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution which says you can't charge bigots with crimes.


  7. "Why? Why would Mr. Trump declassify some of the most sensitive and highly protected U.S. information for all eyes to see?"

    What nonsense, dear Bob. For whose eyes to see?

    According to what we saw (a while ago already) in non-dembot sources, he declassified it so that he could bring it home, to read it at home. It is, presumably, a mere technicality.

    1. He doesn’t read.

    2. Also, he wasn’t president any more so why would he need to read them?

    3. I'm beginning to think maybe right wingers don't argue in bad faith, maybe they really are just incredibly stupid.

  8. Bob's emphasis on the lack of a proper term for how the documents was being organized and carried about is a bit amusing but not in the way he intends. To help him a little, they were sloppily stuck into boxes and scurried away with
    no real care. This does not surprise Bob but he thinks it
    might be a way to excuse Trump, since it's hard to claim
    his grasp on sanity was such that he didn't know what he
    was doing.
    Beyond that, he always looks at the most extreme
    comments on the left to excuse may be bad in Trump's
    behavior on the face of it. Hitchens used to play this
    game all the time. Maybe Trump will wrggle off all these
    various hooks but it's starting to look pretty bad for

  9. Document boxes are fairly standard in size. They're meant to hold legal & letter size file folders upright, so, they're roughly 8.5" x 14" x 9" (or so) deep. Office supply stores sell scads of them.

  10. As a courtesy to Mao, that’s about 21cm x 35cm x 23cm.

  11. “How large was the volume of top secret material found at Mar-a-Lago?”


    This makes it sound as though the FBI stumbled upon classified material.

    They knew exactly what documents they were looking for that Trump had in his possession. The specific docs are not named, but they knew which docs he had and which specific boxes they were in.

    These docs included ones dealing with national defense secrets, the highest level of secret classification.

    It does not matter whether Trump had 1 million such documents or one such document. This is one of Somerby’s most ridiculous red herrings. One such doc is sufficient for prosecution, if that is the direction DOJ is going here. The docs were of such importance that Garland ordered the raid to recover them.

    As to why they were there, we have Trump providing excuses in case he deliberately took them (“i declassified them”, “I bet Obama had lots of secret docs in those 33,000,000 pages when he left office”), or if he did not know they were there (“they were planted”, “the archivist made a mistake”). DOJ had requested these docs a couple of months ago. At that point, it would have behooved Trump to try to find out if they were there (if he really didn’t know) and turn them over to the government. But he did not do that. Of course.

    Read this how you will, but at some point back in June, Trump became liable for possessing them. Full stop.

  12. Speaking as one who was never wrong about the Duke LaCrosse case OR the Central Park Five Case, I’d like to insist there are things we DO know. Bob is a petty, stupid A hole.

  13. Today, there is news about a plan by Trump, no longer president, to take classified out of the archives and publish them. These were documents they did not have in hand, but Trump asked Kash Patel and John Solomon to retrieve them, as part of the June meeting. These were documents pertaining to FBI investigations of Russiagate, and are not included among those that were retrieved by the DOJ at Mar a Lago. The information about this plan, which is illegal, comes directly from Kash Patel himself, on record, to ABC News.

    So, apparently, Trump did have "plans" for classified documents. We do not yet know what his plans were for the ones in his possession, but it seems likely he kept them because he had some use for them, not because they were accidentally intermixed with dinner menus.