The indictment of a former president on charges of keeping secret national-security materials, refusing to give them back, and lying about them to the FBI through his lawyers, while leaving them vulnerable to espionage, creates one of the biggest stress tests ever for our political system. Some Kentucky politicians are already failing it.
Donald Trump should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and there’s no compelling reason for politicians to say anything about his indictment beyond “Let the case take its course, and let the jury decide.”
But in the political world reshaped by Trump and his ego, public performances on social media have become more important to some elected officials than doing their jobs, and Republicans who are on the way up see Trump as a ladder.
A leading practitioner of performative politics is Thomas Massie, who represents Kentucky’s 4th District, a northern arc stretching from Bardstown to Greenup County. Massie is one of the House’s brainier representatives, but is more known for using his intelligence for clever posts on Twitter – most famously the Christmas-card photo with all seven members of his family holding guns and saying “Santa, please bring ammo.”
Massie’s performative and libertarian emphases — which have put him in very small minorities in many roll-call votes — took a pause when Republicans regained control of the House and he had more opportunity to participate in actual governance. He was a key supporter of Kevin McCarthy’s election as speaker and cast a pivotal Rules Committee vote to send to the full House the debt-and-spending deal McCarthy struck with President Biden.
But when Trump was indicted on 37 counts, Massie followed McCarthy’s lead in criticizing and mischaracterizing the case. Massie tweeted, “A sitting president arresting his political opponent is the ultimate weaponization of government.” McCarthy said Biden had indicted Trump; he and Massie were both off base.
The indictment came from a federal grand jury and was prepared by Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has prosecuted prominent members of both parties. There’s no evidence that he’s taking directions from Biden or Attorney General Merrick Garland, or that the indictment is “politically motivated,” as 6th District Rep. Andy Barr tweeted.
The other Republican members of Kentucky’s delegation have been silent on Twitter about the Trump case, but they’re not up for election this year.
Attorney General Daniel Cameron is on the ballot, as the Republican nominee against Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear in the Nov. 7 election. Trump endorsed him in last month’s primary, so it was no surprise that Cameron reacted to the indictment with a statement defending Trump. But it was disappointing that the state’s chief prosecutor seems not to understand what some other prosecutors have been doing, or not doing.
Cameron issued a statement saying "Joe Biden has mishandled classified information, and so did Hillary Clinton. Where are those indictments? It appears there are two systems of justice: one for Republicans and one for Democrats.”
Actually, the cases of Biden and Clinton are very, very different from Trump’s.
About 10 classified documents from Biden’s days as vice president and senator were found last year at Biden’s think tank at the University of Pennsylvania. The Penn Biden Center notified federal officials and gave them back. Searches at Biden’s Delaware home and former office found six classified items, and a special counsel is investigating. Biden has cooperated and there have been no reports that he obstructed justice in the way Trump allegedly did. (William Barr, who was Trump’s attorney general, has said “If even half of it is true, then he’s toast.” More than 100 documents Trump took were marked “classified.”)
Clinton said in 2015 that she had used a private server in her work as secretary of state. She turned over about 30,000 emails, and the FBI found three that were marked “classified,” eight threads that had “top secret” information, and 110 emails with classified information. She said more than 1,000 other emails had been erased from the server, but in 2016, the FBI found 14,900 other emails, a similarly small number of which had classified information. Clinton apologized, after first refusing to do so. FBI Director James Comey said that no charges were appropriate, because there was no evidence that emails were intentionally deleted, and that while “We did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”
Since three of four Republicans in the U.S. tell pollsters the prosecution is political, and Trump is more popular in Kentucky than the nation as a whole, we can expect more misleading, self-serving statements from Cameron and his ilk. Just recognize them for what they are: opinions and arguments, largely unsupported by facts.