Trump’s indictment reverberates among Louisiana politicians, professors

Former intelligence officer says classified documents should be handled appropriately
Published: Jun. 13, 2023 at 8:35 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It was an unprecedented sight: A former U.S. president in federal court to face multiple criminal charges. Donald J. Trump was arraigned Tuesday (June 13) in his home state of Florida and pleaded not guilty to 37 charges, including violating the Espionage Act.

The charges stem from Trump’s alleged possession and handling of classified documents taken from the White House and steps he is accused of taking to conceal the materials from federal officials and investigators.

Retired military intelligence officer Michael Wallace, Ed.D, a senior professor of practice and Emergency and Security Studies Program director at Tulane University, said the importance of properly handling classified information cannot be overstated.

“There are really two reasons to keep information classified,” Wallace said. “The first is we don’t want the enemy to know what we know. And the second is kind of underneath that: We want to protect our sources and methods.”

Wallace said when the wrong eyes see such information, it can put lives in danger, so federal laws aimed at safeguarding classified documents must be enforced.

“The majority of the people in the intelligence world do protect classified information, because we understand that it’s a vital thing to the country and ... you want to protect how you’re getting this information, especially if there are human assets out there,” Wallace said. “It’s something that really needs to be enforced.

“We have laws for a reason. And laws need to be enforced, and it doesn’t matter who it is.”

Dillard University political analyst Dr. Robert Collins said Trump’s situation is unique.

“This is definitely an historic day, not only because it’s the first time in history that an ex-president has been (federally) indicted, but it’s the first time that an ex-president has been accused of espionage,” Collins said.

Members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation responded to Trump’s indictment largely along party lines.

Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Metairie suggested Trump is being treated unfairly.

“When the president’s main opponent for his re-election seems to be treated in a very different way than anyone else -- including Joe Biden himself or Hillary Clinton and others -- that’s what people can’t get beyond,” Scalise said.

But Sen. Bill Cassidy, also a Republican, voted to impeach Trump over his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Cassidy said he has carefully read the allegations contained in the federal indictment.

“(Trump) has been targeted in the past,” Cassidy said. “But reading the indictment this time, when he’s on tape saying that he understands that he had not declassified it and it is top secret and he’s shown it to people ... This one, it seems like his own words indicate that he may have broken the law.”

Rep. Troy Carter of New Orleans, the only Democrat representing Louisiana in Congress, issued a statement to Fox 8 that said, “We live in a nation of laws not men. No one is above the law, even the former president of the United States. Accordingly, this case should be litigated in court like any other criminal matter. I have confidence that Special Counsel Jack Smith will handle this measure with the utmost integrity.”

Collins, who worked on Capitol Hill for two former U.S. senators, said members of Congress who are granted access to classified materials have to follow certain protocols.

“Not every member of Congress even has a security clearance,” Collins said. “You only have a security clearance if you serve on one of the committees that deals with foreign affairs or intelligence.

“If you have a security clearance, you cannot take any classified documents out of the building. You have to look at them in the SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility).”

Wallace said he still has his security clearance because he is a Naval War College instructor. He said he carefully adheres to the rules.

“So, technically, I’m not allowed to look at what’s leaked on the news,” he said.

Trump insists his legal challenges will not stop him from running for the presidency, and Collins says there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent him from doing so.

“There is no prohibition in the Constitution to stop former President Trump from running for office, or even if he were to get elected for office, in theory, he could actually serve from prison,” Collins said. “Now, that would be a highly unusual circumstance.”

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