Leonard C. Goodman Opinion Original

Declassify the Documents From Trump’s Basement

Screenshot of the FBI at Mar-a-Lago.

By Leonard Goodman / Original to ScheerPost

Whatever your feelings about former President Trump, there are reasons to be skeptical when government officials say it was necessary to raid his Florida home to recover classified documents that threatened national security.

Like the former president, I was once accused by the government of mishandling classified information connected to my representation of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay. There was nothing in my client’s file that posed any danger to national security. My client was an innocent shopkeeper who was sold to the Americans back in 2003 when the U.S. was paying bounties to corrupt Afghan warlords to turn in Al Qaeda or Taliban fighters, and then shipping those men 8,000 miles to our newly built prison camp in Cuba. The government decided to classify every document in the detainee files as “secret,” not to protect national security, but so it could lie with impunity and tell the American people that the prisoners at Gitmo were the “worst of the worst,” and “terrorists” captured on the battlefield. 

I never revealed any classified information. I got into trouble after writing an article criticizing the government’s practice of classifying certain evidence above the security clearance level of the detainee’s lawyer, making it impossible to challenge. Following a hearing at the Department of Justice, I was allowed to keep my security clearance long enough to see my client released back to his home and his family after 12 years of unjust imprisonment.

I was never in serious legal jeopardy. But the experience opened my eyes to the ways that our government abuses its power to classify information as “secret” to protect its own officials from embarrassment or criminal exposure. Since 9/11, the people most aggressively pursued for mishandling classified materials are whistleblowers, not traitors. 

Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange revealed official crimes such as the murder of unarmed Iraqi civilians and journalists. Daniel Hale revealed that our drone assassination program regularly slaughters innocent civilians, contrary to public statements about surgical strikes. John Kiriakou revealed inconvenient facts about our torture program. Edward Snowden revealed an illegal mass surveillance program. All these truth-tellers were aggressively pursued under the Espionage Act. Assange may die in prison for telling the truth about the crimes of our leaders.

While Trump may not fit the mold of a selfless whistleblower, there is still cause for concern. First, the official justifications for the raid on Mar-a-Lago are highly suspect. Initially we were told that Trump possessed “classified documents relating to nuclear weapons” that he might sell to a foreign government like Saudi Arabia. This shocking accusation has been quietly dropped. Now we are told that the government has “grave concern” that Trump might blow the cover on “clandestine human sources” described in the mainstream media as the “lifeblood” of our intelligence community. “Disclosure could jeopardize the life of the human source,” a former legal adviser to the National Security Council told the New York Times.

This second justification — to protect sources — is also dubious. The DOJ has been in negotiation with Trump’s lawyers since he left the oval office with his boxes of documents. If the government was just concerned about protecting its informants, a deal could have easily been struck wherein government lawyers would go to Mar-a-Lago and redact the lines in the documents that identify informants without the need for a full-blown raid.

The sudden concern in the mainstream media about protecting informants in order to take down Trump is short-sighted. The U.S. has a long and sordid history of using corrupt, lying informants to launch disastrous policies like the Iraq War. In 2002-03, we were told by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell that the government had  “solid intelligence” that the Iraqi regime possessed mobile production facilities for biological and chemical weapons. Had ordinary Americans then had access to the intelligence reports — leaked years later, after the disastrous war was in full flight — we would have learned that the “solid intelligence” about mobile weapons labs came from a single informant named “Curveball,” who had been described by his handlers as “crazy” and “probably a fabricator” and his intelligence as “highly suspect.” Had some brave patriot leaked these reports in real time, millions more Americans would have taken to the streets in 2002 to stop the planned invasion of Iraq. 

The media should be demanding more information from our government, especially about its use of informants, and not more secrecy. It is a basic rule of journalism that governments lie, and they often bribe (and sometimes torture) informants to support those lies.

Many innocent men, including my client, were sent to Guantanamo Bay on the word of informants who were bribed with large cash rewards. If these informants are the lifeblood of our intelligence service, then that service should be defunded.

A more plausible explanation for the Mar-a-Lago raid was provided by two high-level U.S. intelligence officials who told Newsweek’s William M. Arkin that the true target of the raid was a personal “stash” of hidden documents that Justice Department officials feared Donald Trump might weaponize. This stash reportedly included material that Trump thought would exonerate him of any claims of Russian collusion in 2016 or any other election-related charges. “Trump was particularly interested in matters related to the Russia hoax and the wrong-doings of the deep state,” one former Trump official told Newsweek. 

This explanation is corroborated by former senior director for counterterrorism Kash Patel, who prepared a key House report that revealed “significant intelligence tradecraft failings” in connection with the Intelligence Community’s Assessment on Russian interference. But the CIA has blocked the release of Patel’s report by classifying it as “secret.”

Kash Patel, who is a current board member of Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG), began his career in government under President Obama as a national security prosecutor and later held several positions in the Trump administration. In April 2017, he was picked to lead a team of investigators for the House Intelligence Committee, chaired  by Republican Devin Nunes (now CEO of TMGT) and tasked with evaluating the “Intelligence Community Assessment” (ICA) on Russian interference. Although the media touted the ICA as the consensus view of all 17 U.S. intelligence agencies, it was in fact a rushed job completed in the final days of the Obama Administration by a small group of CIA analysts led by then-CIA Director John Brennan. 

Patel’s team obtained and reviewed the key documents underlying the ICA’s conclusions, and interviewed around 70 witnesses under oath. His demands that intelligence agencies produce relevant documents caused a stir among deep state officials unaccustomed to being called to account for their actions. As the Washington Post reported, “Democrats criticized the unusual direct requests to the agencies” by Patel’s team of investigators. Patel, a former public defender, apparently believed that even the intelligence community should be subject to the rule of law.

In March 2018, Patel’s team produced a report that found serious flaws in the CIA’s Russia investigation and called into question the intelligence community’s key claims that Russia ordered a cyber-hacking and interference campaign to help Trump. The CIA’s response to Patel’s report was to classify it as secret and block its release.

During the next three years, Patel and others, including then-President Trump and Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, pushed for declassification of Patel’s report on the ICA. But the heads of the intelligence agencies continued to obstruct, claiming that releasing the report “would compromise intelligence sources and methods” and cause “harm … to national security, including specific harm to the military.” Trump eventually backed down. 

Then in December 2020, according to the Post, Trump tried to fire Gina Haspel as CIA Director for “resisting efforts by Trump and Patel to declassify” Patel’s report. But once again, Trump backed down and the document still remains under lock and key. Not surprisingly, in its article about Patel’s battle with the intelligence community, the Washington Post sides with the CIA, describing CIA Director Haspel and her colleagues, who demanded that Patel’s report criticizing their work be kept secret, as “courageous officials who sought to protect the government.” 

Patel has publicly voiced his frustration with the CIA for blocking release of his report on the ICA. “I think there were people within the IC [Intelligence Community], at the heads of certain intelligence agencies, who did not want their tradecraft called out, even though it was during a former administration, because it doesn’t look good on the agency itself,” Patel said in an interview. Patel also said he has been threatened with criminal prosecution just for talking to the media about his classified report. The power of government officials to say, ‘we have classified your report and if you even talk about it to the media we might put you in jail,’ is the power of a despot.

In an interview with The Grayzone’s Aaron Maté, Patel disputed the claim that releasing his report harms national security, noting that his committee released similar reports of its other investigations and “we didn’t lose a single source, we didn’t lose a single relationship, and no one died by the public disclosures we made, because we did it in a systematic and professional fashion.” 

For example, in January 2018, Patel authored a report that showed serious abuses by the FBI in the Carter Page investigation, which caused a former FBI lawyer to plead guilty to falsifying information that was used to apply for warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. This report criticizing the FBI was released to the public, suggesting that it is still permissible to criticize the FBI, but not the CIA.

Patel’s public statements suggests his agreement with Newsweek’s report that the true motivation for the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago was seizing documents relating to the Russia investigation that Trump took with him when he left the White House. In a recent interview with Real Clear Politics, Patel noted that “the same corrupt FBI government gangsters, the same agents that were involved in Russiagate, the same counterintelligence agents that were involved in making the bad false call on Hunter Biden’s laptop,” are also involved in the raid on President Trump’s home, with the intent to make sure the American public never gets the full story on Russiagate. 

The saga of the Mar-a-Lago raid sheds some light on the important question of who really controls what we are permitted to see about the inner workings of our own government. While the sitting president may in theory have unilateral authority to declassify and release information to the American people, the deep state bureaucracy still holds the power to obstruct the president. As one former bureaucrat told CNN, the process for declassification must include signoff from the agency that classified the information in the first place “in order to protect the intelligence-gathering process, its sources and methods.”

Whatever one thinks of Trump, is it really in the public interest to have a deep state controlling what information gets out to the public? In 1953, the CIA directed a military coup that overthrew democratically elected Iranian leader Mohammad Mosaddegh, and in 1973, the CIA helped overthrow democratically-elected Chilean leader Salvador Allende. These leaders were targeted not because they were unfriendly to the American people but because they were unfriendly to international oil and copper interests that wanted to exploit those countries’ resources. And while the people of Iran and Chile knew in real time who was responsible, the American people were kept in the dark for decades until key historical documents were finally declassified.

Many scholars believe the CIA was complicit in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Yet 60 years later, thousands of key documents remain redacted or under seal. President Trump came to office promising to release those records, as required by the JFK Records Act. But deep state bureaucrats opposed the release, claiming it would cause “potentially irreversible harm to our Nation’s security.” Trump backed down, quite possibly recalling the fate of the last president to go to war with the CIA. 

It’s not necessary to side with Trump to oppose excessive secrecy. It’s our government. We have a right to see whatever secrets Trump had hidden in his basement. And if government bureaucrats are truly concerned that one of their informants might be outed, they can redact those few lines from the reports. But show us the rest.

Leonard Goodman
Leonard Goodman

Leonard Goodman is a Chicago criminal defense lawyer and Adjunct Professor of Law at DePaul University.

17 comments

  1. Excellent and informative opinion. I agree- whatever one thinks about Trump, having the Deep State (i.e. the security establishment) go after any President- regardless of the claimed justification, ought to raise one’s suspicions. The Spook agencies have clearly become highly politicized and broadened their scope into political ends- and not just abroad. They have for years been using their ability to influence public opinion and elections in furtherance of their own political agenda.

    This seems to be another blatant example of this trend. While the liberal side of the electorate will probably now be cheering the raid and prosecution, the underlying principles and their violation will be overlooked.

  2. By publishing the above, Schweerpost is literally defending Trump’s entirely methodical, “Mein-Kampf”-scripted Christonazification of the United States.

    Why then is Scheerpost defending the indefensible — particularly when the (Republican imposed/”Democratic” [sic] Party’s Fifth-Column-facilitated) nazi triumph will mean the extermination of millions of Blacks, Jews, First Nations people, sexual nonconformists and other dissidents?

    Is our society not already sufficiently poisoned by the deluge of drivel from FOX News and all the other present-day emulators of Hitler’s “der Voelkischer Beobachter”?

  3. You write very well…a good story but it doesn’t apply to Trump. Trump is a criminal . And it is and has been very difficult to hold him accountable for clear and frequent crimes. Yes, I think that he is guilty.

    1. Good, I’ve been waiting for someone to tell me what crime he is being charged with? And if he’s such a dangerous criminal why aren’t they charging him with anything? Innocent people invited into the capital building were tossed into prison uncharged for “terrorism” but dangerous criminal Trump roams free?

      What is Trump’s crime exactly?

  4. What an exceptionally irresponsible position to take. While you have some very valid points about abuse of the classification system, I think there is very little doubt about Trump’s behavior. And I assure you, you won’t find too many people more skeptical of the government, especially law enforcement, than me.

    Trump removed thousands of government-owned documents from the White House, which is illegal. He returned some, kept some, and claimed that they all belonged to him. There is no question that classified materials do not belong to him and he did not have a security clearance after he left office so he wasn’t even authorized to handle or read them. Neither did his lawyers who were also handing these materials.

    While you bring up some serious problems that should be addressed, defending what looks like crimes committed in the open, as Trump is known to do, is not a useful way to spend your time.

    1. I am pretty sure presidents keep their security clearance when they leave office. So Trump would be authorized to possess even top secret docs. And if as you say he obviously violated some criminal statute by taking those docs with him to Mar-a-Lago, would you really want to see him prosecuted for that crime? And because the government is saying some of the documents are classified, they would have to close the courtroom for much of the trial. Do you want to see the former president tried on secret evidence at a closed trial?

      1. Nobody keeps their clearance when they leave office: at a minimum it immediately goes dormant and cannot be exercised again without refreshing their “need to know” which is the sine-qua-non of daily access. The cleared person is not the authority as to whether they have a need to know.

        –A Russian-speaking former intell agent, who, while employed by an agency of the US Government (not a third-party contractor), held and used a TS/Crypto/SCI clearance.

      2. Apropos a “secret trial”, there is already a process in place to prevent the worst sort of Star-Chamber-ing, *IF* the Powers want to make their case in open court which, as we’ve seen with Assange, they have no qualms about refusing to do and refusing to justify their first refusal.

        It is still law, per exec. order, that it is a crime to use the classification process to cover up evidence of crimes, embarrassments, favoritism, and other “mistakes” that will or might call government or its officials into disrepute. But as we’ve seen with Palestine and with Manning and are seeing with Assange, legality really doesn’t matter as long as the malefactors are in charge of the process.

        But the protocol is simple:

        Some federal judges will have held clearances, often as JAGs. The DOD keeps up the clearances of such judges, or if there aren’t any, clears some from scratch (it only costs a half-million dollars or so per each). One or two such judges are accorded need-to-know as consultants to the trial judges.

        There is almost never a need to go into detail about the contents or level of classified material. That’s why the outer cover sheet merely gives the clearance level, the next sheet down repeats the level and warns of SCI material, if relevant, and only the third layer of coversheet, if there is one, repeats the classification level and gives the particular SCI codeword so that the potential reader knows to stop and back off if s/he doesn’t recognise that codeword. (This was the requirement ~60 years ago; details may have changed since then).

  5. What an odd bit of twisted logic from Mr. Goodman. Simply put, former President Trump chose to ignore the rules governing documents that belong to us (not him). It seems he was given ample, look at the correspondence from NARA. NARA gave Trump the opportunity to comply with the law and he chose not to. It does not matter if those documents were classified or not – he simply chose to ignore the law, something he has been doing for most of his adult life; just like so many others who are rich. I’d be happy to see Trump go to prison for his maleficence, but then I said the same thing about George Bush, Sr. and George Bush, Jr. and Obama ignored me 😉

  6. sorry, but this is lousy, deeply flawed journalism. i will just give one example:
    mr. goodman writes, and i quote, ‘a deal could have easily been struck wherein government lawyers would go to Mar-a-Lago and redact the lines in the documents that identify informants without the need for a full-blown raid.’ so let me dissect this.
    1] the government tried, and tried, and tried to get access to these documents with all means like asking nice, asking nice again, a subpoena etc FOR A WHOLE YEAR. . Then they were assured, in a sworn statement by trump’s lawyers, that THERE WERE NO CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS LEFT. if they mendaciously deny they have the documents what tool is left but a raid? the DoJ did ask nicely, many times. ..
    2] mr. goodman conveniently ignores that trump had absolutely ZERO right to be in possession of these documents, much less to keep them in an unsecured closet in the middle of a social club anyone determined to do so could access. so to break the law and let him keep these, redacted or not, is just not what the DoJ does.
    3] as mr goodman certainly knows, the very fact that certain information is in possession of ‘the enemy’ will narrow down the number of possible people who could have leaked this and hence identifies the possible source even if their name, codename etc. is “redacted”
    but still, yer most outrageous lie is to insinuate that trump had a right to these documents and should have been accommodated. mr. trump broke the law by stealing them. and yes, it was theft cause the law forbade him to take them. mr. trump is not above the law, and of course ye know all this so why lie? are ye, per chance, related to Saul Goodman?
    mr. goodman, i feel terribly sorry for yer clients if ye use the same kind of shoddy, deeply flawed and plain false legal reasoning in their defense. this explains why it took ye so many years to free an innocent man… still, good on ye that eventually, at long last, ye came through….

  7. I once canvassed for Bill Clinton when he ran for president. A lifelong Democrat, I saw with the 2016 election that a populist candidate was never going to be allowed to become president. It had happened with Ralp Nader who was taken down with, of all things, lawsuits to knock him out of the race prior to Bernie’s run. That meant anyone who was for the People would never be in that position. I saw this happen with a slew of candidates over the years and when I saw what happened to Bernie, I saw the writing on the wall and have grown dissaffected from any party since. The surprising result is that, without the filters or the desire to go ‘rah-rah go team go!’ I am able to see everything without any leaning one way or the other. The old masks have fallen away just as Dems have been coopted by the Establishment, which is a fascistic constelation of corporate interests that want endless war and now also big pharma pushing its desire for record profits.

    I find it equally interesting to note that Trump has stated that the documents were meant to reveal truths to the American people about corrupt practices within the U.S. government. This was an assertion made at the beginning of the most public part of the news cycle, which began with the F.B.I. raid at Trump’s residence. As you noted, the F.B.I.’s story has changed markedly through thus process, and this was a first clue to me that this was being hatched with a side of propaganda on the side. It wont matter because it is Trump and who cares, right?

    All of what is happening in regards to the documents is being used to propagandize people. When Trump won the Presidency, the left struggled with believing it could be true. They were unable to self examine to see how their side had failed the People, afterall, each side believes that they are good. Nevermind that Obama witheld funds that coukd have helped the People in Flint Michigan, or how he bailed out banks, leaving people to fend on their own. Nevermind that he could have pushed and got a public option for healthcare but didn’t, giving insurance companies a huge ‘gimme’ instead. But Clinton had signed N.A.F.T.A. crowing how good it would be for jobs. An entire region was hollowed out of our manufacturing base and good jobs didn’t return to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. It was enough for peoole desperate to vote for a populist candidate who showed he wasn’t beholden to the same corporate overlords as his opponents.

    Numerous talking heads said that Trump was an illegitimate leader from the start(Hillary) because Russia had helped win him the election, which turned out to be an evidence-free conspiracy theory. This belief was trump-eted for the next few years exemplified in the “resist” campaign that sprung up. Then the Russia issue came along, which was debunked in real time by Aron Maté from The Grey Zone. But people by then preferred to believe the propaganda that made Trump worse than he was, which was as a spy, working in the U.S. government to upend democracy. He is a lawless maniac! Lock up your daughters! Never mind that retired NSA agents had found that it was impossible for the data from the DNC server to have travelled in the time it took to copy the files across the internet (Gussifer II was the alleged hacker who did this). Bill Binney, former Director of cyber operations for the N.S.A. exposed this revelation, explaining that his assertion was supported by the meta data that was present when WikiLeaks made the documents public, showing that no kniwn wired network coukd have transferred the files remotely. The hack was from the inside and as Binney showed in interviews, the data was transferred via a removable drive like a thumbdrive or other removable media. It is interesting to note that no one who had good evidence to show how the Russian narrative was different than what the MSM was saying it was was ever given time on the networks. (Like Bill Binney for instance).This shores up, in my mind, how this effort was an operation to destroy a President.

    For me the concern isn’t over Trump but how this same stunt can be used again with great effect to propagandize the people further on yet another issue or public servant in the future. For me, the principle is far more important because how those speaking against it today will soon be the ones being affected by its machinations tomorrow.

    This is being done while people claim our Democracy is under threat. It is, but Trump isn’t its biggest problem, it is what we point to when we say the Deep State. What could go wrong when you grant an agency in the U.S. government with unlimited secrecy powers? So far whistleblowers have revealed that lawlesness abounds. We also know that whistleblowers will be hunted ceaselessly just as the case of Julian Assange illustrates so well.

    There is an informative documentary entitled Secrecy which is on the subject of the C.I.A. and its secrecy and how it has resulted in our being less free and how many have been harmed by it, and how democracy may not survive because ot it. The use of the States Secrets Act has been used as a shield against governmental wrongdoing, similar to what you described in the beginning of your piece. No one will know how bad it is until or unless someone comes forward…like a whistleblower. As we have seen since Obama, whistleblowers see prison time or come under prosecution.

    Keep writing. Keep examining regardless of politics because we need you even as some think that they don’t. I am thankful that Scheerpost exists and that writers can probe without fear of persecution, censor, or cancelation.

    1. “Bill Binney, former Director of cyber operations for the N.S.A. exposed this revelation, explaining that his assertion was supported by the meta data that was present when WikiLeaks made the documents public, showing that no kniwn wired network coukd have transferred the files remotely.”

      I have great respect for Binney, but, as stated here, the “evidence” is naive. I’ve heard of no evidence presented that the material could not have been broken into smaller blocks, sent in parallel, and reassembled at the destination, which is a common practice when short transfer time is of the essence.

      In fact, until recently when serial (bit-by-bit) transmission became fast enough, even sending a file to a printer was done in parallel (character-by-character) because many printers were fast enough to sit idle most of the time while listening to a serial transfer. Line printers (print a whole line at a time by spinning a special printhead at high speed) could even twiddle their thumbs if a parallel transfer were at all slow.

      Sent in blocks, each block will have its own metadata, but anyone with root access to the hardware and who knows what they are doing can edit the metadata to “prove” whatever they like. Whether that’s what happened in the event in question I don’t know, but to say it cannot have happened, unless there’s other evidence we’re not being shown, is simply naive in a technical sense.

  8. Having interned at the CIA during college, I can confirm that 90% of “classified” materials have no business having criminal penalties attached to their disclosure. The Agency will slap “SECRET” on anything that makes it look bad. We need to empower a new Church Committee to peel back the veil and take a hard switch to the CIA’s collective rear. A nation in which the “internal security” and intelligence apparatus holds a controlling hand over politics is inevitably a police state.

  9. “I can confirm that 90% of “classified” materials have no business having criminal penalties attached to their disclosure”

    90% is quite steep, in my experience—I played it straight on everything I sent, and I’m fairly sure the rest of the pros did too. But I agree that there are “politicians” being rewarded for playing fast and loose with the system, whether the net is 90% or 9% or 0.9% crooked. They and their beneficiaries/benefactors should go to prison when discovered because, as you say, they create a police state when left in power.

    But there aren’t many Frank Churches anymore. And I don’t know where that leaves us.

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