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Presidential Poker

The intelligence community is playing for keeps, so pay attention.

Trump Reportedly Brought Classified Documents To Mar-A-Lago During His Presidency
A car passes in front of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

If you play poker with a guy named Doc often enough, you learn to watch his hands carefully when it is his turn to hold the deck. 

It’s the same for the American people when the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the Intelligence Community, and the FBI sit down at their table. The game right now is, “Will he or won't he?” Will Attorney General Merrick Garland indict Donald Trump on something related to classified information held at Mar-a-Lago? Everyone is holding their cards tight to the vest, but the deal just passed to the DNI, and the game is about to get serious. Stakes are high; in the pot is the presidency of the United States.

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DNI Avril Haines said that DNI "will lead an Intelligence Community (IC) assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents," including those seized. She said the DNI was aiming not to interfere with the ongoing criminal investigation, to which everyone at the table had better shout "bull." A review of potential risk means the DNI can show a pair of twos and claim they are kings. The DNI's whole point here is to interfere with the investigation, same as they did with Hunter's laptop, Russiagate, and the Clinton server before that. The intelligence community is as much a part of our elections now as it ever was in any other banana republic.

It works like this: using classified methods in secret to look at classified documents, the DNI will come to conclusions about what might happen to the security of the United States if those documents were to fall into "the wrong hands," i.e., the hands of their choosing, which will certainly represent a worst-case scenario. Without revealing the documents' contents or why those contents are so important, the DNI will get to say how bad things could be, and your role as the public is to believe them and vote accordingly. Since it is a worst-case-scenario game, the DNI will, without any evidence that anyone but Trump saw the documents, no doubt proclaim that a pair of kings.

The goal of course will be to influence the investigation or, more precisely, influence public opinion of the outcome. It is a remake of the January 2017 intelligence-community assessment (another make-it-say-what-you-want-it-to-say document) that claimed, without evidence, that Vladimir Putin wanted to put Trump in the Oval Office. Or the 2020 intelligence-community letter claiming the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation. 

Right now, the DOJ has very little material to use in a prosecute. Basically, they have the fact that Trump held on to some (potentially) classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Did anyone see them? Was there any chance a foreign adversary got a peek? DOJ needs more than simple possession (albeit a crime) to go after a once and perhaps future president. They may not have it. The documents may never have left lock and key. Mar-a-Lago surveillance tapes may not show Boris Badenov walking in and out of frame; enter the intelligence community.

The DNI document review itself will of course not be made pubic. In discussing which sources and methods might have been damaged, it will need to be more highly classified than the original documents. We'll never see the review. But better than the entire document, from their perspective, is the fact that we will all see the leaks, the little snippets meant to take down Trump that will inevitably leach into the New York Times and Washington Post. The intelligence community will provide the ammunition in carefully measured amounts; DOJ needs to make the unclassified case to the public that the classified stuff they'll never see is a big, big deal.

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Conspiracy theory? Ask yourself how crime-scene-like photos have already leaked from the Mar-a-Lago investigation, and compare that to, say, the discipline around the Jeffery Epstein case. Imagine a crime-scene photo of children's underwear strewn across the floor, stuff investigators allegedly found in Epstein's desk. That didn’t leak. Remember, DOJ and Trump have been bickering about these documents nearly since he left office. Ask yourself, why was the spectacular raid held just months ahead of the midterms?

This is by now a familiar song. Remember the role the intelligence community played in the 2020 election in making sure Hunter Biden's laptop and its contents would not influence Americans? As the New York Post broke the story that a laptop full of Hunter Biden’s files contained potential evidence of a pay-for-play scenario involving then-candidate Joe Biden just ahead of the presidential election, almost in real time, more than 50 former senior intelligence officials signed a letter dutifully published by Politico claiming the emails “have all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation.”

The signers said their national-security experience made them “deeply suspicious the Russian government played a significant role in this case. If we are right this is Russia trying to influence how Americans vote in this election, and we believe strongly that Americans need to be aware of this.” Small world—the U.S. spy chiefs who signed that infamously misleading letter, including John Brennan, Leon Panetta, Michael Hayden, and James Clapper, directed America’s intelligence community while Biden was vice president.

The letter was an act of evil brilliance. It played off cultivated prejudices from 2016 that the Russians manipulated American elections. In fact, most of the signatories, James Clapper and John Brennan among them, had played key roles in misdirecting public opinion around the DNC-server hack and later Russiagate. Among the establishment, the meme quickly became “the laptop is fake.”

The major difference in this case was the establishment’s willingness to actively block information. With the letter as “proof” the laptop was disinformation, the media took the handoff. Twitter locked the New York Post‘s account after the Post refused to obey Twitter’s orders to delete its own truthful reporting. Twitter even banned links to the story in direct messages. Facebook announced it would not allow discussion of the issue pending a “fact check" that never came. Establishment media outlets labeled the laptop fake, social media blocked the news, and the public basically fell in line and voted for Joe without knowing squat about what he and his son Hunter had been up to. Many still do not.

More recent information exposes the plan in greater detail, including the FBI's specifically approaching Facebook and Twitter about the story. Their claims to have not interfered with the election are fully false, with a cover up to boot. Like the whole of Russiagate, it was all made up, and the intelligence community worked hand-in-glove with the Democratic media to hide information. Hunter Biden’s laptop had the potential to change the outcome of the 2020 election, and everyone knew it.

So be careful when the inevitable intelligence leaks about the whole Mar-a-Lago affair show up. Now, after all that, do you want to play another hand of poker with these guys? Sure, let old Doc here deal you in.

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