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What exactly is in those boxes at Mar-a-Lago?
A member of the Secret Service is seen in front of the home of former President Donald Trump at Mar-A-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida on August 9, 2022. (Photo by GIORGIO VIERA/AFP via Getty Images)
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As the extraordinary news of the FBI’s raid on Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, spread last night, the obvious question repeated over and over again was this: Why would Trump even want to take 15 boxes of what’s been described as “government documents, mementos, gifts and letters.” It’s the latter two that are slightly strange. What leverage, for example, does a fountain pen from Chinese president Xi Jinping afford him? (I’m imagining the fountain pen bit, but you get the point.)
Well, I have unusual personal insight into this.
In my experience, Trump keeps everything—or copies of everything—no matter how apparently mundane because, to his mind…well, you just never know when it might be weaponized.
(In this sense, he is similarly transactional—some might say paranoid—as his late former friend Jeffrey Epstein who, I discovered, deliberately kept thank you letters or copies of correspondence from the children and women he molested so he had “evidence” that only pure munificence on his part was at play.)
In 2014, I learned in a rather shocking way that Trump had kept all the correspondence he’d had with me in the previous six years. This was hardly earth-shattering correspondence containing classified information. Instead, it was a few simple thank you notes from me for various lunches, meeting, and one time he invited me to Mar-a-Lago. He was a source, but he also tried to be helpful (the motivation behind his kindnesses is up for debate), especially when I was selling my house. And so I wrote him hand-written notes, as I often do to people who take the time to have meetings with me.
However, in 2014, my book The Liar’s Ball was published. In it, I told the story of the desperate scramble that ensued when the world’s most valuable piece of commercial real estate in the the United States—the General Motors Building—went on the auction block. I had to mention the unarguable fact that Trump had had the chance to buy the GM Building for very little money—around $50 million down, plus a letter of credit from his bankers guaranteeing $250 million. His partner—the main owner, Conseco, Inc., an insurance company—had gone bust, and Trump had the contractual right to acquire it for himself. Yet, he ultimately let the building slip right through his fingers. Had he acquired it, he would have made billions of dollars, given how the market shot up.
So, Trump didn’t like the book. And he was angry with me. On its publication day, he tweeted, “Just finished poorly written & very boring book on the General Motors Building by Vicky Ward. Waste of time!” Then he phoned the New York Post and claimed he’d saved me from foreclosure, which he had not. He then published photocopies of all my thank you notes on his Facebook page and wrote a letter to me referring to me as “Little Vicky” in a withering letter to my publishers. (When, two years later, Trump ran for president and described Marco Rubio as “Little Marco,” I felt like sending Rubio a note telling him that, on the bright side, our club of “little people” was expanding.)
In the end, all this negative attention was actually very helpful to me. I got asked about Trump’s reaction to my book on TV so often that I really owe him another thank you note for helping with book sales.
So what’s in those boxes at Mar-a-Lago? Only time will tell. (And I do hope that we will find out—at least as much as we can, given that the contents of the boxes include classified documents.)
The bigger question is: For what purpose has Trump been keeping them? Precedent tells us that Trump keeps everything. Historically, he’s seen this as a tactic that gives him the upper hand. We’ve seen some people stay loyal to him in ways that defy logic. Just what it is that he has—or that they fear he has—on them?