The Water-Closet Scandal

A bathroom with a chandelier and boxes Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Boxes stored inside a bathroom at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in April 2021. Photo: Department of Justice.

The Trump indictment

We don’t know, and will probably never know, the full contents of the folders at Mar-a-Lago containing U.S. nuclear and other secrets. The Miami courtroom where Trump is to be tried later this year will shield them from the jury, reporters, and the public. That won’t be a problem for jurors; to determine Trump’s guilt or innocence of espionage, conspiracy, obstruction, and the other charges, they will only need to know: 1) that the files exist; 2) that they were stolen by Trump; and 3) that their existence at Mar-A-Lago was purposely hidden from government agents seeking to recover them.

Similarly, we don’t know, and probably won’t ever know, if Trump’s squirreling behavior compromised U.S. national security, as special prosecutor, Jack Smith alleges. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine a scenario in which the Mar-a-Lago documents were delivered over to foreign powers, including Russia, China, Iran, and North Korea. However, before laying out a plausible scenario for such a transfer, let me present to readers my national security bona fides. Admittedly, I don’t have the decades of training and experience of Melvin Goodman, the brilliant national security columnist for Counterpunch, but I have one thing going for me: I’ve been to Mar-a-Lago.

Palm Beach and West Palm Beach

From 1983 until 2008, my parents Bert and Grace – initially both and then, after my father’s death in 1986, just my mother – lived in a retirement community named Golden Lakes Village in West Palm Beach. It consisted of hundreds of inexpensive condo apartments, two-flats and “villas” surrounded by small ponds. Nearly everybody was Jewish and there was a synagogue on site, as well as multiple pools and tennis courses. There were two clubhouses with large pools, unglamorously called Phase A and Phase B, where the retired “inmates,” as my dad called the residents, played Mahjong, Canasta and Bridge, and never swam. The streets all had womens names and my parents lived on Lake Meryl, between Lake Lucille and Lake Nancy. The biggest excitement there – once a year or so – came when one of the elderly residents accidentally drove into a pond. My mother, who learned to drive at age 73, never did that, but she came close a few times.

There was little prestige to living in West Palm Beach then. It was where the staff and servants of the of Palm Beach millionaires (now billionaires) lived, and where the rich went to buy cars. When my father, a working-class man who never attained any of his youthful career aspirations, told acquaintances he was moving to Florida, he’d say he was moving to “West Palm Beach”, swallowing the first word so it would remain almost unheard. He wasn’t trying to fool anybody, but he liked to joke and imagine what it would be like “if I was a rich man.”

After my father’s death, I visited more often and for longer periods. Grace cared little less about status, and rarely ventured across the draw bridge to Palm Beach except sometimes to go to TooJays, the Jewish deli where she could buy gravlox sliced-very-thin. But being my father’s son, I spent a lot of time in Palm Beach during visits to mom. I bought for the purpose a used, yellow silk suit, a pair of brown and white Ferragamo loafers (also used), and a new Panama hat. I’d sometimes stroll Worth Avenue, look in the shop windows, and pretend to be interested in the jewelry, watches, and clothes on offer. I shopped at the local Saks Fifth Avenue during the annual summer sale. (For decades I owned an indigo blue Versace sport jacket that I bought at 70% off; I recently gave it to Goodwill.) And sometimes I’d go for a drink at the vast and glamorous Breakers Hotel, which at that time had a little, orientalist Bar I liked called The Alcazar that served great Margueritas.

But here’s the point: Mar-a-Lago was a frequent destination or stopping point during my perambulations in Palm Beach, and in those days, it was hardly an impregnable fortress. At first, just Trump and his family including wives Marla and then Melania lived there, and then after 1994 it became a club. To me, an historian of art and architecture and a bit of a snob, the place was an unusually ghastly example of the Spanish colonial revival architecture found everywhere on the island. I never much wanted to get in, but if I did want to, I’m sure I could have — there were no guards at the gate. Between 2016 and 2021, security there became tight, but after Trump’s defeat in 2020, his Secret Service detail shrank considerably, and access was once again pretty easy. Though putatively open only to members who paid the one-time membership fee of $200,000 and annual $14,000 dues, it was easy to get invited there if you were willing to donate to Herschel Walker, Elaine Stefanik or any of the other individuals and organizations, such as Turning Point USA and the Republican National Committee, who curried favor with Trump by paying the fat fees required for renting out the joint. There were lots of ways to sneak in too, as a journalist Nimrod Kamer claims to have done. (The best way is to arrive at the gate and say you have a big bar tab you forgot to pay.) What follows is not based upon personal experience but may be considered plausible speculation about how top-secret nuclear information may have been compromised at Mar-a-Lago.

Boris Nogudnikov’s Distress

Let’s imagine the year is 2021 and you are a 55 y.o. Russian oligarch – call him Boris Nogudnikov. You recently bought a modest, $5 million condo on South Ocean Boulevard in Palm Beach. You are not a spy and have no other intent in wanting to visit Mar-a-Lago than to meet the once and possibly future president and longtime FOP (friend of Putin). You buy a $200,000 ticket to the annual fundraising dinner for the Republican National Committee, get your tuxedo pressed and hair colored, and hire a pretty, young escort to accompany you. Your limousine drops you both off at the gate, you pass through the metal detector (no guns allowed!), show your invitation and ID, and you are in. Your reserved table is near the nicely lit pool. You order champaign for two and quickly head to the food line. There you see a huge pile of jumbo shrimp scampi – your favorite! You pile them on your plate and get to work, eating the crunchy shells as well as the succulent flesh inside.

Three hours later, you are a happy man, and ready to go home. You had your fill of champagne and shrimps and stood along with everybody else to give The Donald a standing ovation when he entered the pool area, to the tune of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” You even briefly met the ex-president (alleged!), and posed for a picture with him – that cost another $100,000. You have now accomplished everything you wanted – it was $300,000 well spent. But just before you leave, you are stricken by terrible stomach cramps and you rush to the bathroom. Was it the shrimp? (You heard gossip that the club was cited for health code violations, but assumed they were all corrected.) Whatever the case, you can’t be the only one sick because all the bathrooms are occupied! Sweat is now pouring off you as you desperately flag down a waiter and explain your predicament. He gestures for you to follow him – through a door, down a dimly lit hall and into an unlocked bathroom with a crystal chandelier, crystal sconce, marble, shell-shaped sink, and piles of bankers boxes everywhere, including the shower. Relief at last.

As you sit – you know you are going to be there a while — you figure you need something to read. The box in front of you is labeled: “Top Secret: Access to Nuclear Codes.” The first few files are incomprehensible – long lists of numbers. Then you hit one that catches your attention. It’s a note from the National Security Agency that reads:

“This is your third notification. You must change your password or you will be cut off in two weeks from access to MAOs, SAOs, LAOs and the DS. If you do not remember your current password, please click here to enter your username and initiate multi-factor authentication.” [The three-letter acronyms stand for Major Attack Options, Selected Attack Options and Limited Attack Options. Kremlin officials surmise that the initials “DS” stand for “Disconnect Switch.”]

It’s surprising for you to see such a document in a toilet open to almost anybody, but what’s even more surprising is what you see at the bottom of the sheet, written in Trump’s distinctive, polygraph-looking, up-and-down cursive: “New password: STORMY1ILV!” Now you realize that in addition to meeting Trump, getting your photograph taken with him, and getting very sick, you now possess the keys to the nuclear kingdom. So, you finish your business, clean yourself up, and pull out your phone to call the Presidential Directorate for Correspondence with Citizens and Organizations 495 625 35 81. “Hello, this is Comrade Nogudnikov. Please connect me to the office of Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu. It’s an emergency.” Pause, “Hello, Tovarisch Shoigu?”

Unless we experience a knock-out, nuclear first strike without retaliation, we’ll never know if this scenario above really happened. But if the bombs drop, and any people survive to tell the tale, they’ll know it was the shrimps as well as Trump’s hoarding that was to blame.

Stephen F. Eisenman is emeritus professor at Northwestern University. His latest book, with Sue Coe, is titled “The Young Person’s Guide to American Fascism,” and is forthcoming from OR Books. He can be reached at s-eisenman@northwestern.edu