June 12, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Showing off was Trump’s motive
It defies imagination but it's there.
Motive is something that jumped out at me when reading about the second criminal indictment against Donald Trump, this one over government secrets that he stole, then lied about stealing.
I mean its absence jumped out. The Times said that federal prosecutors “did not supply a motive for Mr. Trump’s actions, but described incidents in which he appeared to be showing off the material.”
But I don’t think it’s really absent.
Most people who are nailed for compromising government secrets do it for money or ideology. These are motives that prosecutors recognize. But they didn’t recognize Trump’s motives, because, I think, they can’t comprehend a president of the United States who feels the unending need to show off.
Those “incidents in which he appeared to be showing off the material,” according to the nearly 50-page and 38-count indictment, were:
In July 2021, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey (“The Bedminster Club”), during an audio-recorded meeting with a writer, a publisher, and two members of his staff, none of whom possessed a security clearance, Trump showed and described a “plan of attack” that Trump said was prepared for him by the Department of Defense and a senior military official. Trump told the individuals that the plan was “highly confidential” and “secret.” Trump also said, “As president, I could have declassified it,” and, “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
In August or September 2021, at The Bedminster Club, Trump showed a representative of his political action committee who did not possess a security clearance a classified map related to a military operation and told the representative that he should not be showing it to the representative and that the representative should not get too close.
The July 2021 incident was reported last week. Paula Reid got a transcript in which Trump “not only claims to have retained classified information but also acknowledges the limits of his power to do so.”
Reid went on to say that, “we know from our sources that among the people in the room were at least two people working on [former White House Chief of Staff] Mark Meadows’ autobiography as well as some Trump aides. The ‘he’ refers to [Joint Chiefs Chairman] Mark Milley.”
Then she reads the transcript.
I don’t mean what she reads. I mean how she reads it, the way she gives voice to Trump’s words. Specifically, listen to when she says, in Trump’s voice, “isn’t that amazing?” Just reading his words aloud shows us that Trump’s motive isn’t absent. (Start watching at 2 minutes, stop at 3:33.)
The Times said that federal prosecutors “did not supply a motive for Mr. Trump’s actions, but described incidents in which he appeared to be showing off the material” — because showing off is the motive.
Most people who are nailed for compromising government secrets do it for money or ideology, motives that prosecutors recognize. But they didn’t recognize Trump’s motives, because, they can’t comprehend a president who feels the unending need to show off. They can’t imagine a former commander of the most powerful military in the world who feels an itch so profound that he’ll jeopardize his country to scratch it.
The indictment says that “the classified documents Trump stored … included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to foreign attack. The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, [and] the safety of the United States military.”
Eh, so what?
What’s that compared to a hole in a man’s heart that can’t be filled?
Imagine being so small inside that no amount of accomplishment, wealth or love is enough? Imagine being so desiccated that you “put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military” to make a point about … something somewhere for some reason you can’t explain. Imagine being so alone.
You can’t. Neither could prosecutors.
They “did not supply a motive,” because Trump’s defies imagination.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.