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Sensemaker: Double O Donald?

Sensemaker: Double O Donald?

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A year after the fall of Kabul the BBC’s Newsnight said hundreds of British Council and British Embassy staff eligible for resettlement in the UK remained at risk in Afghanistan.
  • State-run media in Iran celebrated an attack on Friday that left the writer Salman Rushdie in stable but critical condition.
  • Boris Johnson was booed at a supermarket in Greece, where he is taking his second holiday since announcing his resignation.
  • Anne Heche, star of Wag the Dog and Donnie Brasco, died at 53.

Must read: Nic Robertson’s three-week drive round Ukraine reveals aspects of life there you don’t see in breaking news, including champagne selling briskly in Kyiv.

Double O Donald?

Docugate is getting worse for Trump, not better. Last week federal agents took 20 boxes of classified papers from his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. Yesterday he asked for them back on grounds of attorney-client privilege. The new tactic stands no chance of succeeding but is notable as a change from previous ones used by the ex-president and his allies, including

  • denying the documents were classified
  • suggesting the FBI planted them
  • likening the FBI to the Gestapo; and
  • falsely claiming President Obama removed classified documents as well. 

Key point: Mar-a-Lago is a beach club with 58 bedrooms and minimal ID checks for its 500 members. A former CIA officer has called it “incredibly porous” and a security nightmare.

For this reason and others the 45th president is recalibrating his response to last Monday’s search as evidence mounts that it has more potential to hurt than help him.

On Friday the warrant that authorised the search was unsealed along with an inventory of items seized. 

The warrant cites three sections of the US code: 793, which incorporates the 1917 Espionage Act and relates to “gathering, transmitting or losing defense information”; 2071, which relates to the mishandling and “mutilation” of official papers; and 1519, which relates to obstruction of justice. 

The inventory summarises the contents of the 20 boxes. Eleven contained classified papers. Four of them included documents marked Top Secret, and one of the four held documents marked Top Secret SCI, for “sensitive compartmented information”, meaning it came from intelligence sources, aka spies.

What’s in the boxes? That remains unclear, but the WaPo has reported that the FBI was looking for documents with information about nuclear weapons. The NYT has said they were “highly classified” and the WSJ said they were probably supposed to be read only in special government facilities.

What about Obama? As the seriousness of the justice department’s investigation came into focus on Friday, Trump tried whataboutism. He claimed his predecessor had moved 33 million pages of documents to Chicago when he left the White House, “much of them classified”. But this isn’t true. The National Archives and Records Administration (Nara) pointed out that:

  • 30 million pages of documents were moved to Chicago but not by Obama and not to his home or library (they are at a Nara facility); and
  • none of them are classified, all the classified papers from Obama’s time in office being held in Washington.

Three questions remain: what are the seized papers about, why were they in Florida, and who has seen them there? State-run media in Moscow have enjoyed suggesting they have already been exhaustively chewed over by Russian intelligence, and it’s entirely plausible that sleeper agents based in Florida have gained access to Mar-a-Lago as members or members’ guests. Stranger things have happened:

  • In April 2017 guests watched and listened to global geopolitics unfolding in real time as Trump boasted to China’s Xi Jinping over dinner that his brief absence from the table had been to authorise a missile strike on Syria.
  • Two years later a Chinese woman was arrested in Mar-a-Lago having breezed through security with a thumb drive and four cell phones despite not being on the guest list.

Trump is a braggart. His presidency was a performative presidency. He complained about any efforts to limit his authority but enjoyed the accoutrements of power and seems at the very least to have fought tooth and nail to keep some as mementos. 

Did he go further and steal top secret information about America’s nuclear arsenal for future sale or to pass to foreign governments? As David Graham writes in the Atlantic, with Trump “one can never take comfort in the idea that the worst has already come to pass… every story gets worse”. 


McDonald’s in Kyiv
McDonald’s will reopen restaurants in Kyiv and western Ukraine after pausing operations across the country on 24 February when Russia invaded. Since then, “all three legs of the stool have mobilised,” McDonald’s head of international operated markets wrote in a message to employees. “The belief that [reopening] would support a small but important sense of normalcy has grown stronger.”  Over the next few months the chain will work with product suppliers and prepare its restaurants in order to bring employees back with enhanced safety protocols. Ukraine’s Foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, who negotiated with the company via the US Embassy in Kyiv, called its decision political: “It’s not just about Big Macs,” he said; McDonald’s reopening in Ukraine was a signal for international business. McDonald’s has been operating in Ukraine for 25 years and had more than 100 outlets there before the war. It has sold all its premises in Russia and has no plans to reopen there. 


Dalit discrimination
Apple has included a specific reference to caste-based discrimination in its employee conduct policy, to protect Indian employees and those of Indian heritage from being disadvantaged because of their social background. Caste-based discrimination has been illegal in India, at least in principle, for 70 years, but Reuters has interviewed “about two dozen” Dalit tech workers in the US who say their low-caste status has led colleagues to overlook them in hiring decisions, promotions and social activities. Apple amended its employee conduct policy with little fanfare two years ago. This seems to be the first time it’s been noted in the press, and the rest of Silicon Valley is playing catch-up.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

Energy costs
Keir Starmer wants to freeze the UK’s energy price cap until next March as Labour’s plan to support people through the energy price crisis. His £29 billion plan would be funded by backdating the existing windfall tax for energy companies, cancelling the £400 discount currently proposed by the Conservative government as it wouldn’t be needed, and making savings in debt payments by cutting the rate of inflation in the process. Paul Johnson, head of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, gave Starmer credit for costing the plan, but it still kicks the problem into the long grass in that it expires next April. The Liberal Democrats last week proposed absorbing the whole of October’s projected energy price rise at a cost to the exchequer of £36 billion. The IFS has also announced today that as things stand, the UK government would need to find another £12 billion to achieve what it was aiming to do with its initial £24 billion package announced in May. There is no cheap way out of this. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Brace for the superstorm
The NYT has produced a spectacular scroll-and-gasp preview of what it says is California’s next Big One – not an earthquake but a series of so-called atmospheric rivers each carrying up to 26 times as much water as the Mississippi, gathering in the warming Pacific and slamming into the West Coast’s mountains and valleys with unprecedented force. Atmospheric rivers aren’t new. Nor are they much like rivers. They’re just big storms given direction and momentum by vortices over the ocean turning like rollers in a steel mill. What’s new about the NYT’s treatment is the idea of a series of ARs hitting one after the other and making California’s storm protection infrastructure look puny. Above about 2,500 metres there will, briefly, be epic snow.


Kabul a year on
When the Taliban announced its new government last September, it was all male. When it told senior women not to come to work, it advised them to send in CVs of male relatives who could do their jobs. Last December it banned women from making long-distance road trips alone, and in March it reversed itself on letting teenage girls go back to school. They have lost a year of education. Now a spokesman blames religious leaders in rural areas, as if they might be more mediaeval in their outlook than the Taliban itself. The world may be turning a blind eye but it’s surely not so easily fooled. Nor are other governments buying the Taliban’s claim that Ayman al-Zawahiri, killed by a US drone last month, was the last terrorist hiding in Kabul. More on this later this week.

The week ahead


15/8 – Criminal Barristers continue strike action over legal aid pay; former SNP Member of Parliament Margaret Ferrier appears charged with Coronavirus rule breach, 16/8 – Rishi Sunak meets Conservative Friends of Israel group; Department for Work and Pensions releases monthly Universal Credit figures; unemployment statistics released, 17/8 – Pembrokeshire County Show; producer price inflation statistics announced; Conservative leadership election candidates hold Belfast hustings; man appears charged over Windsor Castle Christmas Day incident, 18/8 – A-level results day; RMT, Unite and Transport Salaried Staffs Association stage national train strike; Southport flower show, 19/8 – Manchester hustings for Conservative leadership; Office for Budget Responsibility public finance release; hosepipe ban takes effect in Pembrokeshire 


15/8 – Gazprom announces results in Moscow; European Athletics Championships begin in Munich; jury selection for R Kelly child pornography trial in Ilinois; Assumption Day public holiday in France, Italy and Spain, 16/8 – detention of Islamic Jihad leader Bassem al-Saadi, arrested by Israel, expires unless extended; Wyoming state primary election; 45 years since Elvis Presley died, 17/8 – Nato secretary general Jens Stoltenberg meets Kosovo’s prime minister Albin Kurti amid rising tensions between Kosovo and Serbia; Norwegian sovereign wealth fund results; 18/8 – July inflation figures for EU; Turkey interest rate decision, 19/8 – Hearing for man accused of attempted murder of Salman Rushdie; sentencing for member of ISIS ‘Beatles’ for murdering US hostages in Virginia

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what you think. Send an email to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Additional reporting by Nina Kuryata and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images

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