Over the past seven years, I felt that I had become hardened to the former President’s malignant narcissism, puerile behavior, and spectacular excesses. That was until I read the 49-page federal indictment unsealed last week. In one particularly telling section of the indictment, Trump is recorded sharing classified information with an uncleared person whose only response is recorded as “Wow!”. Upon plowing through the indictment, I eventually lost track of the times I uttered the same exclamation. Wow!
I have had the privilege (and the responsibility) of having held a Top Secret (TS) clearance with Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) access for 28 years. A number of those years were spent in the White House and the Pentagon, where my duties called for me to access some of the most highly classified material controlled by our government. Like nearly everyone else with similar access, the need (and the processes) for maintaining the security of this material had been drilled into me and became second nature.
The indictment serves as a stunning portrayal of Trump’s long-standing disdain for the intelligence community. He began deriding the community and its personnel during the early days of his 2016 campaign. In an unforgivable example of mockery, a few days after his inauguration, he selected to stand before the hallowed “Wall of Stars” at CIA Headquarters to complain about the press coverage of the crowd size at his inauguration. I left the GOP the next day.
While the indictment does have its comedic elements – the “musical chairs” with the boxes at Mar a Lago, the boxes stacked high in a gaudy bathroom, and Trump’s obvious juvenile fascination with showing off all this “secret stuff”; there is a much darker side to this story. For me, and I suspect for many of my colleagues in the intelligence community, what was particularly shocking was the extraordinarily sensitive nature of many of the 31 classified documents thinly described in the indictment.
A number of the documents appear to pertain to the very “Crown Jewels” of our intelligence community. Most of the documents were classified, at the very least, at the TOP SECRET level, and many of those carried the additional caveats indicating Sensitive Compartmented Information. Eight of the documents are listed as TOP SECRET (redacted), which indicates that the document was from a Special Access Program and had contained a code word so sensitive that its mere mention would be highly classified. At least two of the documents bear the legend TOP SECRET (HCS-P), which indicates that the material contains intelligence products that were derived from HUMINT – the designation for intelligence sourced from “human” (read agent) collected resources. A number of the documents allude to U.S. nuclear plans and foreign and U.S. military capabilities and include several items shared with the “Five Eyes,” …our closest allies in the world.
Reading these references in the clear light of day and on the pages of a criminal indictment charging the former Commander in Chief was a jaw-dropping experience for me and probably for many of us who have spent years trying to protect our nation’s most important secrets. The sheer breadth of the material was stunning, along with the possible harm (including physical) to our agents, programs, and international partners. The potential damage is incalculable. I felt like I was going to retch.
Perhaps as deeply troubling as the indictment itself was the reaction to it. Trump and his cronies reacted as we have come to expect. They hew to their playbook of attacking the Justice Department and trotting out the well-worn mantra of “it’s all just part of the witch hunt.” As usual, the reaction from Trump’s most loyal supporters was predictable, vapid, and formulaic.
More concerning is the reaction from those who occupy what today passes for mainstream Republicanism. Beginning with the Speaker of the House and dutifully echoed by the Freedom Caucus and even many rank-and-file Republican Members of Congress, the general theme (facts aside) was that the indictment is an example of President Joe Biden’s “weaponization of the Justice Department” to take out his biggest political adversary. For now, Leader McConnell and many Republican Senators were somewhat more circumspect.
The reactions of Trump’s likely GOP primary challengers were more interesting. In feats of precarious balancing, rivaling a Prima ballerina, the posture struck by most of them (Asa Hutchinson and Chris Christie being the exceptions) was to attack the Justice Department rather than directly defending Trump. Although, at least one potential candidate stated that, if elected, he would pardon Trump. Fear of doing anything to alienate Trump’s unshakeable base still holds sway.
During the next year or so, as this criminal case continues to wend its way through the twists and turns of the trial process, America will once again find itself facing the emotional trauma that has become a companion of seeking justice for the actions of the former President. Having read the indictment, I am confident that the pain that we, as a nation, may face will indeed be worth it.
A former Coast Guard JAG officer, he served in the Reagan White House Military Office as Special Assistant for Operations Policy. Following his leaving active duty, he was appointed General Counsel, Office of the Administration in the Executive Office of the President under President George H. W. Bush. He subsequently was appointed Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Drug Enforcement) also in the first Bush Administration. His private sector career was primarily focused as a corporate general counsel for technology companies serving the U.S. Intelligence Community. He was a founder and partner in CenTauri Solutions, LLC an intelligence community contractor that was acquired by Computer Sciences Corporation. He retired from the Coast Guard Reserve as a Captain with 10 years of active duty and 16 in the Reserve.