Monday, October 3

Editorial: Why would an ex-president who doesn’t read want boxes of documents at his home?


Amid all the Republican outrage and threats over the FBI seizure of purloined government documents at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compound is a tricky little question: Why did an ex-president known for his aversion to reading even need access to about two-dozen boxes of documents that belonged to the federal government and reportedly contained top secret material?

Trump has long been known to get bored easily and neither has the time nor patience to pore through thick folios of written materials. His preferred information medium is television, where people talk and big headlines scroll across the bottom of the screen.

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When it came to sitting through morning national security and intelligence briefings at the White House, aides say Trump quickly lost interest. “He didn’t process information in any conventional sense,” wrote Michael Wolff, author of multiple books on Trump. “He didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semi-literate.”

Trump reportedly walked out in the middle of his national security briefings or canceled them altogether. Aides began boiling down his briefings to visuals and graphs. He would interrupt briefers telling him about spies and foreign military movements by asking, “Who’s winning?” Even after officials actively sought to “dumb down” his briefings to keep his attention, his mind drifted elsewhere, according to accounts in The Washington Post, The New York Times, New York magazine and The Atlantic.

Against that backdrop, the existence of perhaps 25 boxes full of government documents, reportedly including top secret material, in a Mar-a-Lago basement seems particularly curious. Why would Trump want them at his private residence when he didn’t like to read and had no legal right to possess them? Since it’s highly unlikely that Trump lugged the boxes of documents to Mar-a-Lago by himself, who helped him and what was their clearance level to handle such sensitive materials?

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Trump certainly had to grasp how serious it is to unlawfully retain classified documents since he spent years attacking former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for diverting official emails to her private server. And after the FBI collected 15 boxes full of documents at Mar-a-Lago earlier this year, Trump must have had a good reason to hide the existence of another 10 boxes. It was only after an informant tipped off the FBI to the additional boxes that a federal judge authorized last week’s search.

Trump might have wanted to keep the materials as mementos or perhaps for reference if he wound up hiring someone to write a book under his name. Or perhaps the materials contained information he wanted to keep permanently hidden for personal reasons. Regardless of the justification, the documents were never his, and Republicans who are apoplectic over the FBI search should first be asking why it was ever O.K. for him to break the law in the first place.

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