February 18, 2022
There are four big stories today.
The first is that the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has confirmed that it found classified documents among those its staff recovered from former president Donald Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago.
David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, wrote in a letter to Representative Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, that NARA is in the process of inventorying the 15 boxes of material Trump took out of the White House and that it has found “items marked as classified national security information within the boxes.” Because Trump removed classified information from its required security protection, NARA staff have alerted the Department of Justice to that national security breach.
There is more. Ferriero said that NARA has identified social media records that the Trump administration neglected to preserve. NARA “has also learned that some White House staff conducted official business using non-official messaging accounts that were not copied or forwarded into their official electronic messaging accounts,” as the law required. In addition, even after news reports of Trump tearing up records led NARA to remind the White House that records must be preserved, it nonetheless received records that were torn into pieces.
But her emails.
(Sorry. Willfully destroyed records make historians a bit salty.)
Meanwhile, the second story is that John Durham, whose court filing in a case drove the story about Trump’s mishandling of presidential records out of the news this week, has responded to the accusation that he deliberately politicized and exaggerated a story to inflame Trump loyalists. Durham’s filing presented information in such a misleading way that right-wing media and lawmakers have howled incorrectly that it proved Hillary Clinton was spying on Trump both before and after he took office. The defendant in the case asked the court to strike from that filing the inflammatory paragraphs.
Today, Durham responded that “if third parties or members of the media have overstated, understated, or otherwise misinterpreted facts contained in the Government’s Motion, that does not in any way undermine the valid reasons for the Government’s inclusion of this information.” In other words, the right-wing media frenzy misrepresents what happened, but that misinterpretation is not Durham’s problem.
The third story is that U.S. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta rejected Trump’s attempt to dismiss three lawsuits that blame him for inciting the January 6 riot. Eleven members of the House of Representatives (in their personal capacities) and two Capitol Police officers have accused former president Trump, Donald J. Trump Jr., Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL), and right-wing militia groups including the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Warboys, and so on, of conspiring to prevent them from performing their official duties. This is a federal crime thanks to a law first passed in 1871 to stop Ku Klux Klan members from preventing Black legislators and their Republican allies from doing their jobs.
After reviewing the events of January 6 and the days leading up to it, the judge concluded that those launching the lawsuits “establish a plausible conspiracy involving President Trump.” He noted that the president and others worked together to disrupt Congress and stop the counting of the certified Electoral College ballots on January 6. The president undermined faith in the election, falsely claiming it was stolen, and urged supporters to go to Washington, D.C., on January 6, telling them it would be “wild.” He planned the rally, and at it he gave a barn-burning speech that concluded: ““We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”
Trump’s role in a potential conspiracy was “to encourage the use of force, intimidation, or threats to thwart the Certification from proceeding, and organized groups such as the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers would carry out the required acts.” The judge also noted a pattern of “call-and-response” between the president and his militia followers. When he told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” for example, one of their leaders tweeted: “Standing by sir.”
The court concluded that it was plausible that Trump was part of a conspiracy to stop the performance of official duties.
The fourth story is that this evening, President Joe Biden addressed the nation to update us on the threat of Russia’s launching another invasion of Ukraine. He emphasized that we and our allies stand behind Ukraine and pledge to continue diplomatic efforts to prevent a war, and yet will deliver “massive costs on Russia should it choose further conflict.” He urged Russia “to de-escalate and return to the negotiating table.”
Political scientist and journalist David Rothkopf tweeted that Biden is speaking as the leader of the free world. “It has been a long time since a U.S. president filled that role. His remarks were concise and pointed...and underscored Western resolve. But the headline: He is convinced [that] Putin has decided… to invade.”
Indeed, that was the big takeaway from the speech: Biden said that intelligence sources think Putin has made his decision. Biden said: “we have reason to believe the Russian forces are planning to and intend to attack Ukraine in the coming week—in the coming days. We believe that they will target Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv, a city of 2.8 million innocent people.”
Former director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Chris Krebs pointed out that the advances the United States intelligence community has made in the last few years in counteractive measures have enabled the U.S. to head off plans “before they’re set in motion.” U.S. officials are alerting Putin to the fact there are leaks in his team, putting his plans at risk. This can cause strife and perhaps make leaders rethink their policies. As Krebs tweeted, it “[p]uts some sand in their gears, creates mistrust, and can slow down planning and operations…. The deliberate approach by western gov[ernmen]ts to anticipate Russian disinfo[rmation] & get in front of it is a positive evolution.”
We do not know where the next several days will lead, of course, but it is notable that the solidarity of the countries allied against authoritarianism, strengthened by U.S. diplomacy, is holding strong.