Governor Kim Reynolds was quick to respond after federal prosecutors charged former President Donald Trump with 37 counts related to concealing and mishandling classified documents, making false statements, and obstructing justice.
Although the governor misrepresented the facts of the criminal case, her statement conveyed plenty about Reynolds and the dominant mindset among Iowa Republicans.
WORDS DISCONNECTED FROM REALITY
Here’s the full text of the June 9 news release from the governor’s office.
DES MOINES – Gov. Kim Reynolds released the following statement in response to former President Donald Trump announcing an indictment from the U.S. Department of Justice:
“The federal indictment of former President Trump represents a grave warning sign for the state of equal justice and public trust in government institutions in this country.
“Just like the Biden CDC’s overreach during COVID will have long-lasting impacts on the American people’s trust in public health institutions, the Biden administration’s weaponization of the Justice Department will diminish Americans’ confidence in law enforcement institutions for decades to come.
“This is a sad day for America, and it is difficult to see where we go from here—particularly as President Biden has also been accused of the same thing the DOJ is prosecuting former President Trump for. 2024 can’t come soon enough.”
Many Republican politicians employed similar rhetoric about alleged “weaponization of the Justice Department” against Trump. But those claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.
Former presidents or prime ministers have faced criminal charges in many countries, including some mature democracies. Many former U.S. governors and members of Congress have been convicted of crimes as well. The point is to demonstrate that no one is above the law. On the flip side, giving former political leaders a pass for illegal behavior can allow corruption to flourish.
As special counsel Jack Smith told reporters during a June 9 briefing,
Our laws that protect national defense information are critical to the safety and security of the United States, and they must be enforced. Violations of those laws put our country at risk.
Adherence to the rule of law is a bedrock principle of the Department of Justice and our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world. We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.
A politically-motivated prosecution based on thin evidence would be concerning. But the charges against Trump were meticulously documented, and voted by a grand jury in the Southern District of Florida.
Last year’s search at Trump’s Florida residence turned up dozens of classified documents, including “information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.” Some were “so sensitive that their classification markings are redacted in the indictment,” reporter Jamie Dupree noted.
Text messages and photographs produced by Trump’s own employees showed numerous boxes were kept in unsecured locations, such as the Mar-a-Lago ballroom and even a bathroom.
Photo published in federal indictment of Donald Trump
On at least one occasion, a box fell over, leaving classified material on the floor of a storage room.
Photo published in federal indictment of Donald Trump
Recorded conversations revealed that Trump allowed several people to look at material related to military operations, which he knew he had not declassified. Security camera footage showed Trump’s “body man” (who is also being charged) and other staff moving boxes that were subject to a subpoena to rooms accessible to many. Notes taken by Trump’s former attorney indicated that his client floated the idea of ignoring the subpoena or lying about whether documents remained at Mar-a-Lago: “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?”
For Reynolds, holding Trump accountable for those alleged crimes was a “sad day for America.” And instead of encouraging people to keep an open mind as the case plays out, the governor made this absurd claim: “it is difficult to see where we go from here—particularly as President Biden has also been accused of the same thing the DOJ is prosecuting former President Trump for.”
False. Biden (and former Vice President Mike Pence) had some classified material mixed in with other documents stored at their homes or private offices. Attorneys for both men immediately notified federal officials and began making arrangements to return the classified material. No one has alleged that Biden or Pence deliberately concealed secret documents, showed them to people without a security clearance, resisted returning them, or lied to federal officials about the matter.
A MORE DISTURBING MESSAGE
Communication occurs on several levels, and sometimes the most important messages are implicit.
A classic example is the greengrocer in Václav Havel’s famous essay “The Power of the Powerless.” The sign in his shop window reads, “Workers of the world, unite!” But the real message he sends by hanging up the sign is more like, “I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. […] I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient.”
Reynolds is the opposite of powerless, of course. As Iowa’s most influential Republican, she sets the tone for how others are expected to behave. So let’s examine the subtext of her news release.
Neither Reynolds nor her staff could have read the 49-page charging document before issuing the pre-written statement.
Reynolds could have said nothing about this case. She had no scheduled public appearances on Friday. Her office routinely ignores media inquiries via email. Yet she denounced the prosecution.
The message to Iowans, and especially to Republicans: I don’t need to look at the evidence or the specific charges. I only need to hear Trump’s side of the story.
Second, notice how Reynolds—who rarely misses a chance to brag about “backing the blue”—encourages Iowans not to trust the law enforcement agencies that investigated and assembled this case.
Just like the Biden CDC’s overreach during COVID will have long-lasting impacts on the American people’s trust in public health institutions, the Biden administration’s weaponization of the Justice Department will diminish Americans’ confidence in law enforcement institutions for decades to come.
If many Americans distrust government institutions, that’s largely because the Republican establishment and conservative media have misinformed them. Now, just as Reynolds enabled Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and validated his baseless claims of voter fraud, she is promoting the idea that the Justice Department unfairly targeted the former president.
Finally, look at how Reynolds reframes the charges against Trump—which, if true, would be disqualifying for someone attempting to become commander-in-chief—as a reason to vote Biden out of office: “2024 can’t come soon enough.”
The bottom line: while Reynolds has talked a good game about remaining neutral in the presidential race before the Iowa caucuses, she is aligning herself with the front-runner.
The message to other presidential candidates, GOP elected officials, and party activists is clear. Do not grant any legitimacy to this prosecution. Do not engage with the substance of the charges against Trump. Do not suggest Republicans might be better off nominating someone who hasn’t been credibly accused of endangering national security.
Like the greengrocer in Havel’s essay, Reynolds would be embarrassed to say plainly, “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient.”
But she might as well have done so.
Top image cropped from a photo Governor Kim Reynolds posted on her political Facebook page on June 14, 2022.