By Lance Simmens
“Listen, do you want to know a secret” (Lennon and McCartney)
One of my biggest thrills as a young public servant was gaining a Top Secret security clearance as a senior staffer on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. I felt a special level of gravitas upon my shoulders as I went about helping to fashion legislative policy positions that would advance the security and welfare of the nation’s citizens.
I shall never forget the grilling I went through by the Defense Intelligence Agency in a nondescript government-issue furnished office at the D.C. Navy Yard, apparently designed to shake one’s confidence in their own qualification for such an honor. It was 1981, the beginning of the Reagan era, and a time when admitting you smoked pot in college might eliminate your bid to have access to information that would sufficiently prepare you to brief your boss, a United States senator, on either international affairs or defense spending issues during the closing chapter of the Cold War.
That sense of patriotism and commitment to our nation bound Congressional staffers and senior level governmental officials together, regardless of political and/or ideological beliefs, into a select fraternity of public servants whose job was to move the nation forward and protect American citizens. It was and should still be the epitome of dedication to this democratic experiment that apparently is under attack by a sickening wave of authoritarianism.
Look, this should not be an issue at all. If someone, anyone, breaks the law, they should be held accountable and abide by the dictum “if you do the crime you must do the time.” Regardless of one’s position in life, ability to pay for a top-rate defense, ignorance of the law, or popularity, if found guilty you should own up and accept the consequences of your actions.
Thus, the current spectacle confronting the 45th president of the United States over an abuse of the responsibilities entrusted to him by the Electoral College that specifically prohibit confiscation, desecration, or possible sharing of the most important documents outlining information that might lead to extended violence, death and destruction, and/or benefit either his own financial or power fantasies or embolden actual or potential enemies of the State is the height of betrayal.
While the verdict is not yet out, the dubious and suspicious circumstances surrounding why documents that represent the highest levels of national security should first and foremost never left the secure confines of the White House and second should have been surrendered to federal officials when requested. That is the law. That over a year and a half after the Capitol insurrection and Donald Trump’s removal from the White House have passed with no action on this matter despite strenuous efforts by law enforcement agencies of the federal government to secure their surrender, short of a warrant for their seizure, is simply unfathomable.
The incontrovertible facts are quite simply that any efforts to circumvent any of three criminal statutes are in play here: you may not remove certain items from any public office (max. 3 years in prison); you must deliver documents to an officer of the United States when requested (max. 10 years in prison); you may not conceal or destroy documents to hinder an investigation (max. 20 years in prison).
The legal standard employed in determining guilt is criminal intent. For those who insist on whataboutisms, i.e., “well, what about Hillary Clinton’s emails?’, an investigation concluded in 2019 found “no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.” It should also be noted that Clinton cooperated with the investigation and investigators and hence there was no need for the issuance of a subpoena or for executing a search warrant.
At a time when various investigations are underway involving Trump in New York and Georgia, social media is being utilized to instigate outright violence, defunding of the Federal Bureau of Investigation is being advanced by Republican congressional leaders, active chats about a potential “civil war” are gaining currency in a world struggling with conspiracies and conspiracy-theorists, inglorious portrayals of the deep administrative state continue to be propagated, and distrust of government institutions, including federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies are being questioned, we stand at a dangerous inflection point in our nation’s history.
How we as a society respond to this crisis in confidence in our democratic system will largely dictate the world we leave to future generations. Those who wish to capitalize on whatever fortunes or disasters that may seem apparent from a political calculus, which under the rosiest scenario will most assuredly be a short-term deflection rather than a long-term solution, will carry the shame of structurally denigrating the advances we have made in democratic governance.
Democracy is messy, but it works. Winston Churchill captured the essence of democracy when he declared “it is the worst form of government — except for all the others that have been tried.”