GOP Hypocrisy Concerning Trump’s Stolen Documents

Jake McPhail ’24

Opinion Editor

Almost anyone will argue that the past two presidential cycles have been particularly vicious, especially considering the campaign tactics of the former president, Donald Trump. When comparing his campaign to a greater historical context, very few other campaigns endorsed political violence from their supporters or advocated for the incarceration of their opponent. 

Despite such an unprecedented and dangerous provocation, the most notable catchphrase from the 2016 campaign, save for “Make America Great Again,” was “lock her up,” referring to the former secretary of state and then-presidential candidate, Hilary Clinton. 

Claims to “lock up” the main political rival are more typical of the authoritarian states of Eastern Europe and Asia, but as time progressed, the former president grew more and more comfortable with such autocratic remarks. Although he never said “lock her up” during his 2016 campaign, that changed during his attempt at re-election in October of 2020.

The rally opened with the typical cacophony of a Trump rally, with hoards of people shouting “U-S-A-U-S-A…” and, of course, “lock her up!” However, straying from his usual suggestive smirking, he said: 

“Yeah. I agree with you. I used to just be quiet on that. I agree with you 100 percent.”

It is difficult to grapple with the severity of statements like these because Americans have been so desensitized by such rhetoric from Trump. But many of us forget: why does he, ostensibly, want her to be “locked up?”

The scandal of Hillary Clinton’s emails stands out as one of the most discussed in recent memory. Some point to the press surrounding it as the career-ending coverage that was the nail in the coffin of her 2016 campaign.

Conservative entertainment/news outlets, such as FOX, covered it with the most scathing critiques, calling for a more thorough investigation and even her imprisonment. They touted that the mishandling of government documents on a private email server jeopardized national security and deserved the highest amount of scrutiny they could conjure. The former Secretary of State’s name was seldom brought up without the word “emails” trailing behind it. Note: none of the emails contained classified information.

Yet, when it came to light that Trump himself was hoarding classified documents after the FBI executed a search warrant on his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, the right wing media apparatus had a very different response. Despite the actions of the former president being objectively worse than that of Clinton, conservatives simultaneously claimed that he had the authority to perform de-classifications en masse but also that the documents were planted by a FBI corrupted by Attorney General Merrick Garland and President Biden.

As a brief refresher, Donald Trump was in an exchange between himself and the National Archives since the termination of his presidency last year for him to surrender documents from his presidency, which should have occurred on January 20, 2021. 

Trump was required to do so under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, inspired by the Watergate Scandal of former President Richard Nixon. The law was the successor to the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974, which made all of Nixon’s materials, most notably his tapes, public property out of fear he would destroy damning information related to the scandal. Under the new law, presidential documents and records still become public property, owned by the American people for similar reasons.

But again, rather than the right critiquing the former president, as they did with Clinton, there were cries calling for defunding the FBI, most notably from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene—a noteworthy turnaround from the “back the blue” rhetoric in response to the protests of police brutality during the summer of 2020.

It is deeply ironic that a law designed to protect the American people from political agitators, like Trump, from insulating themselves from their scandals and crimes, has been disregarded by the same people who made it clear that protecting national security from the mishandling of documents was of utmost importance. 

Furthermore, Trump could also be in violation of the Espionage Act of 1917 which criminalizes the “unauthorized retention or disclosure of information related to national defense that could harm the United States or aid its enemies.” The law was used to justify the search by a federal judge as many of the documents he failed to surrender were classified. 

Not only is this event frightening when taking into consideration the potential national security risks of storing classified documents in an unsecured private residence, but it is also frightening to witness the lengths the right will go to protect the demagogue-in-chief of their hearts, Donald Trump.

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