On Sunday, The New York Times floated a very important question on Twitter: Why was Donald Trump hoarding boxes of national security documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort? And what could possibly explain his intense resistance to giving them back?
For all the detailed evidence in the indictment accusing Donald Trump of holding onto classified documents and obstructing the government's efforts to retrieve them, one mystery remains: Why did he take them and fight so hard to keep them? https://t.co/MlPsooGcdZ
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 10, 2023
Now, far be it for me to criticize the paper of record's reporting, but last year I made a throwaway joke that solved the mystery. I would like to introduce you all to an advanced political theorem known as "my boxes."
Former American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher had asked last year, around the time of the Mar-a-Lago raid, what reason Trump could possibly have for refusing to return the boxes. It was somewhat of a hobby among the professionally credulous to wonder what machinations could be behind Trump's decision to hold on to these boxes, despite legal peril. Among some resistance liberals, there were unsupported accusations that Trump may have been selling classified documents or using them for nefarious purposes.
Then, in a joking back-and-forth with The Bulwark's Sonny Bunch, I offered a fictional conversation between Trump and an aide that would tidily sum up the former president's motivations and legal theories:
For the past year since then, whenever a new bit of information dribbles out about the case, someone on Twitter alerts me that another point has been scored for "my boxes."
All of the substantive reporting, as well as the recently filed indictment, has backed up the "my boxes" hypothesis. In August, The New York Times reported that Trump told several advisers, in response to the National Archives' demands that he return the boxes: "It's not theirs; it's mine." The Washington Post reported in November that "Trump repeatedly said the materials were his, not the government's—often in profane terms."
This April, Fox News' Sean Hannity tried to tee up a softball for Trump, saying he couldn't imagine the former president saying, "Bring me some of the boxes that we brought back from the White House, I'd like to look at them." But Trump insisted that he would.
"I would have the right to do that," Trump replied. "I would do that."
According to the 37-count indictment filed in federal court against Trump this week, he told one of his long-suffering attorneys: "I don't want anybody looking, I don't want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don't, I don't want you looking through my boxes."
"My boxes" has always been the simplest, most durable explanation for Trump's behavior. He took the boxes because he likes boxes of stuff, and he refused to give them back for the same reason. He has a toddler's conception of property and a similar developmental level of excitement for show-and-tell. (Kid Rock allegedly got a glimpse of national security documents when he met with Trump.) All of which is how you end up with descriptions of America's nuclear capabilities sitting in a box in a South Florida bathroom.