Remember that classifying documents usually protects the government, not you
The late Angelo Codevilla was a brilliant political observer. A reader reminded me of one of his articles that is singularly appropriate to the time in which we live. The article, written in 2018, suggests, in addition to firing Robert Mueller, instantly order the declassification of every document related in any way to the 2016 election. Had Trump taken that advice, I'm certain we would today be living in a thriving America, enjoying Trump's second term in office. Aside from that wishful thinking, what's very clear is that bureaucrats too often classify documents not to protect America and Americans, but to protect themselves.
Codevilla's June 1, 2018 essay, at American Greatness, was entitled "President Trump's September Surprise." In it, Codevilla imagined a speech that Trump could give to address the Democrat party's "Resistance" campaign against his presidency, all based upon what we know now (and Trump knew then) was a completely faked dossier that originated with the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Instead of letting "justice" take its course, as Trump ultimately did to his and America's cost, Codevilla wanted to have Trump be more proactive. Thus, Codevilla suggested that Trump announce (and then take) three decisive steps: first, fire Robert Mueller and require him to turn over to the Justice Department every single document and electronic communication he and his little team had collected during their Russia Hoax investigation.
Second, Codevilla imagined Trump making the following announcement:
Second, in the exercise of my authority under Article II of the Constitution, I hereby declassify, as of noon Eastern Daylight Time on September 5, any and all documents in the possession of the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency relating in any way to the election of 2016.
The attorney general, the secretary of state, the director of central intelligence, and the secretary of defense shall instruct officials under them to put all such documents online, without redactions. If any of these officials believe that the publication of an item in any of these documents could get anybody killed, they will have to convince me to redact it.
Before now, charges and countercharges were made on the basis of speculation and partial leaks about what these documents contain. This has divided Americans needlessly while giving unfair advantages to insiders and to those connected with them. From now on, as a consequence of my order, the New York Times' reporters will have access to absolutely everything. But so will everybody else. People will be able to make up their own minds on the basis of information available equally to all. That's democracy.
Third, he wanted Trump to force his opponents in the House to put up or shut up about impeachment, but to do so before the election. An impeachment would be the real "resistance" if they could prove it.
It's the second suggestion that's the important one. That's because we now know that the Russia hoax was indeed a hoax from beginning to end, and a lot of people still in the government were involved. The reason the documents were secret wasn't to protect America by keeping secrets that involved our national security vis-à-vis Russia or to protect spies acting as agents on America's behalf. Instead, they were secret because the whole thing was a lie, and the bureaucracy was in on it.
The reality is that bureaucrats, being insecure people who cling to institutional power in lieu of real self-confidence, have no idea what's important. Absent that intelligence, instinct, and ability, they reflexively classify everything. That way, they can't get in trouble with their superiors or, when the fecal matter hits the fan because they've been engaging in grossly unconstitutional and illegal conduct, no one will know.
It's apparent that Trump intended to write some tell-all or do some exposé when he left the White House, which is why he did what presidents do all the time: take documents from the White House to their new (or old) highly secure homes so they can write their memoirs. And again, because presidents have plenary power to declassify anything — a power given them by the American people — nothing in his possession is classified, including the latest claim that Trump had "highly classified documents." When they walked out of the White House with him, they were automatically unclassified.
Ultimately, what Trump really did wrong was allowing a manifestly biased government process to take place. He should have trusted the American people with information showing that the federal government is corrupt, possibly irredeemably so. That he trusted a corrupt government to have an honest outcome reveals the dangerous naïveté that guided Trump during his first term.