Birds of a Feather: Trump and Airman Jack Teixeira

Photograph Source: U.S. Air National Guard – Public Domain

There could not be more dissimilarities between any two people than those between former president Donald Trump and Airman First Class Jack Teixeira. Simple demographics would record the differences in wealth, education, experience, background, and family. Trump is a millionaire many times over thanks to an inheritance from his wealthy dad; he lives in golden residences in New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Teixeira comes from a very modest background; he lives with his parents in a small town near Cape Cod.

But Trump and Teixeira do share one dangerous and pathetic characteristic that has led them to federal indictments and upcoming trials. Both are insecure individuals who have stolen sensitive documents from the government in order to brandish their access to classified materials and thus enhance their status and their reputations. The 44-page indictment against Trump strongly suggests that he stole the documents in order to impress friends, colleagues, and political operatives. Trump bragged about having secret documents dealing with Iran, and displayed a sensitive map, conceding that “he should not be showing the map” and you should “not get too close.” On another occasion, he boasted that “this is secret information. Look, look at this.”

Teixeira went into so-called security chat rooms to do the same thing for the untutored and unskilled who seemed to have no idea about what Teixera was showing off. He regularly shared classified information in a chat group called “Thug Shaker Central,” reading from printouts removed from his office on base. Chatroom members reportedly talked about and played video games together, with Teixeira identified as the chatroom administrator. Like the Trump case, very sensitive materials were exposed.

Nevertheless, there is one major difference in their current status. Teixeira is in jail, facing an extremely long prison sentence. Trump will be in a courtroomTuesday, but will be allowed to return to one of his golden palaces, and probably will have no restrictions on his domestic travel. He could face a series of twenty-year prison sentences for his crimes, but that is unlikely to happen.

There has been a great deal of speculation on the outcome of the trials and tribulations that face the two men, but one thing is clear from recent history. Low-ranking individuals, like the Jack Teixeiras of the world, face very severe punishment for their crimes. High-ranking individuals, like the Donald Trumps of the world, encounter a judicial slap on the wrist, if that, for their perfidy. Recent history is dispositive.

A brief look at the careers of retired general David Petraeus, former CIA director John Deutch, and former national security adviser Sandy Berger tell you everything you need to know. General Petraeus was having a torrid affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell, while serving in Afghanistan. Petraeus provided her with sensitive notes that included the names of CIA operatives, which is a federal offense, and even more sensitive CIA black operations.

Deutch, in his short and unproductive tenure as CIA director, regularly took home sensitive materials on CIA black operations and downloaded them to his unsecured home computer, where they could be found by any savvy technocrat. The fact that Deutch regularly went to pornographic sites on the computer made the sensitive materials even easier to intercept. Berger stole sensitive documents from the National Archives in order to protect the ebbing reputation of President Bill Clinton. He hid them under a nearby construction vehicle, and then returned the documents, which were stuffed in his pants, to the National Archives.

Now, a look at their punishments. Petraeus faced one misdemeanor charge of “mishandling” classified information. He received two years of probation and was fined $100,000 for retention of classified information. A couple of his honoraria for speaking engagements easily covered the fine. The CIA suspended Deutch’s security clearance, and he faced a $5,000 fine. President Bill Clinton immediately pardoned Deutch. As for Berger, there was a fine of $50,000 and 100 hours of community service. Every other theft from the National Archives over the years has led to prison time.

When you don’t occupy a position of power, the full force of the judicial system is brought to bear in dealing with security transgressions. For releasing the Pentagon Papers, which contained very little classified information, Daniel Ellsberg faced a sentence of 115 years under the Espionage Act. Fortunately, a judge dismissed all charges upon learning about the Nixon administration’s misconduct, which included wiretaps and breaking into the offices of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist.

John Kiriakou was the first government official to expose the torture and abuse of the Bush administration, and was also the first CIA official to be convicted for passing classified information to a reporter. He received a prison sentence of 30 months. CIA operative Gina Haspel conducted torture and abuse, and became the director of the CIA. But that’s another story for another time.

NSA translator Reality Winner received the longest sentence ever given for providing classified information to a reporter, even though the report dealt with Russian interference in the 2016 election, which was well known to any reader of the mainstream media. The sentence was for five years and three months. Private Chelsea Manning exposed war crimes by U.S. forces in Iraq, but received a sentence of 35 years. President Barack Obama commuted the sentence on his way out of the White House in 2016, presumably for the way Manning was mistreated by the government.

Thomas Drake, a whistleblower at NSA, faced a 35-year sentence under the Espionage Act, until the government dropped all charges in the wake of a judge’s harsh criticism of the government’s behavior. Eventually, Drake had to accept one misdemeanor charge for “exceeding authorized use of a government computer,” which probably could be used against any government employee.

It would be satisfying to believe that Trump could actually face a prison sentence for his egregious acts that compromised U.S. national security, but the historical record suggests that he will not.

Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University.  A former CIA analyst, Goodman is the author of Failure of Intelligence: The Decline and Fall of the CIA and National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism. and A Whistleblower at the CIA. His most recent books are “American Carnage: The Wars of Donald Trump” (Opus Publishing, 2019) and “Containing the National Security State” (Opus Publishing, 2021). Goodman is the national security columnist for