Some of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents are people who served in the former president’s administration. They include high-ranking officials well versed in either national security or law enforcement.
What You Need To Know
- Some of the most vocal critics of Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents are people who served in the former president’s administration
- On Sunday, three men who worked under Trump — former Attorney General Bill Barr, ex-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former national security adviser John Bolton — made television appearances in which they excoriated their former boss over his alleged actions
- Barr said Trump "provoked this whole problem himself" by refusing to return documents the government was seeking
- Esper said if the allegations against Trump are proven, he should not be trusted with classified information again
- Bolton said the country should “let the consequences fall where they may in” the documents case
On Sunday, three men who worked under Trump — former Attorney General Bill Barr, ex-Defense Secretary Mark Esper and former national security adviser John Bolton — made television appearances in which they excoriated their former boss, who is running for president again in 2024, over his alleged actions.
Their criticisms came days after former Trump chief of staff John Kelly commented publicly that it appears “for the first time in his life” that Trump is “being held accountable” and amid former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s own presidential campaign, which leans heavily on speaking out against Trump. Christie never served in Trump’s administration but was an informal adviser to the president and briefly led Trump’s transition team.
Federal prosecutors allege Trump illegally retained national defense information and then conspired to obstruct the government’s efforts to retrieve the documents. He was indicted on 37 charges earlier this month, becoming the first former president to ever face federal charges.
Trump pleaded not guilty. He’s called the indictment “the most evil and heinous abuse of power in the history of our country” and accused the Biden administration of pursuing the the case as a means of “election interference.” President Joe Biden is the favorite to secure the Democratic nomination in 2024.
But Barr, who has stuck up for Trump about other investigations, said Sunday the documents case is different.
“This is not a circumstance where he’s the victim or that this is government overreach,” Barr told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “He provoked this whole problem himself.”
Barr also said Trump is a “fundamentally flawed person who engaged in reckless conduct.”
“He had no right to those documents,” Barr said. “The government tried for over a year quietly and with respect to get them back, which was essential that they do, and he jerked him around.”
The former attorney general added that he thinks Trump lied to the Justice Department during the investigation and that there’s nothing to support his argument that he has the right to keep the documents under the Presidential Records Act.
“The legal theory by which he gets to take battle plans and sensitive national security information as his personal papers is absurd,” Barr said. “It's just as wacky as the legal doctrine they came up with for having the vice president unilaterally determine who won the election.
“The whole purpose of the statute, the Presidential Records Act, was to stop presidents from taking official documents out of the White House. It was passed after Watergate.”
However, despite his criticism of Trump, Barr said he doesn’t “like the idea of a former president serving time in prison.”
Asked if Trump might put the country at risk if he were reelected president, Barr said, “He will always put his own interests and gratifying his own ego ahead of everything else, including the country's interests.”
“He's like a 9-year-old, a defiant 9-year-old kid who is always pushing the glass toward the edge of the table, defying his parents to stop him from doing it,” the former attorney general said. “It's a means of self-assertion and exerting his dominance over other people. And he's a very petty individual who will always put his interests ahead of the country’s.”
In response to an interview Barr gave to Fox News last week, in which he was also critical of the former president, Trump called Barr “weak” and a “totally ineffective” attorney general. Trump accused Barr of spreading “misinformation” because he’s angry Trump fired him. (Barr has said he resigned.)
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Esper said if the allegations about Trump are true, “it could be quite harmful to the nation.”
“Clearly, it was unauthorized, illegal and dangerous,” said Esper, who added that “no one is above the law” and that Trump should be “held to account.”
Esper said if the allegations against Trump are proven, he should not be trusted with the nation's secrets again.
“Imagine if a foreign agent, another country were to discover documents that outline America's vulnerabilities or the weaknesses of the United States military,” Esper said when asked about the dangers posed by classified records lying around at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club.
“Think about how that could be exploited, how that could be used against us in a conflict, how an enemy could develop countermeasures, things like that.”
On MSNBC’s “Inside With Jen Psaki,” Bolton said he found it “disturbing” that Trump, as president, would sometimes retain classified documents shown to him in intelligence briefings. The former national security adviser gave the example of a 2019 tweet Trump sent showing an overhead photo of a failed Iranian missile launch. The photo was shared immediately after intelligence officers left a briefing with Trump, Bolton said.
“There's no conceivable reason for that except that it made him feel good to be able to do it,” Bolton said.
Bolton said the country should “let the consequences fall where they may in” the documents case.
“The mishandling of classified information was serious because it put at risk these sensitive pieces of information, making it more likely that a foreign adversary could get their hands on it,” he said.
Many Republicans continue to defend Trump, attacking the Justice Department over the investigation.
“If they're pointing to this case, I think they're wrong,” Barr said. “I think the department had no choice but to seek those documents.”
Added Bolton: “I think the party as a whole is risking falling into the trap of Caesarism, that this leader gets deference regardless of our political principles.”