The photo tells it all. There is the overabundance of the carpet in Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump’s Florida resort, with its elaborate floral design presumably intended to suggest taste and luxury but merely signaling excess.
There is the tackiness of the cheap gilded frames stuck in a box on the right of the picture, an echo of the golden skin plastered all over Trump Tower in Manhattan. In the front frame, the ego of the owner rings out – it is a Time magazine cover from 2019 showing Trump’s Democratic presidential challengers, Joe Biden among them, peering enviously at him as he sits in the Oval Office.
And then there is the stuff that truly matters: the six folders of documents strewn across the floor marked “Secret/SCI” or “Top Secret/SCI”. Immediately, the papers point the viewer in a very different direction: this image is not about excess or tackiness or ego; it is about secrecy, danger, illegality.
The photo is to be found appended to the 36-page court filing released by the Department of Justice (DoJ) on Tuesday in its battle with Trump over classified records. Attachment F displays some of the confidential documents that the FBI discovered during their hotly contested search of Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
The picture encapsulates not only Trump’s disdain for democratic norms and laws, but also the thickening legal peril that is now closing in on him. It is carefully composed, allowing the viewer just enough legible detail to draw deductions.
Here is a document stamped 9 May 2018 – the day after Trump announced he had pulled the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, as Bloomberg noted. Here’s another White House document marked “Secret, Limited Access”, dated 26 August 2018.
Was that classified because that was the day after Trump’s nemesis,