There was a bit of a crisis at my home a few months ago. My 6-year-old son figured out there was a button on the handle of the bathroom door, so he pressed it. Then he came out of the bathroom and closed the door and voilà: He had created a facility secure enough for the country’s most closely-guarded secrets.

This story is true, save for the security thing. That, of course, is a reference to a defense of former president Donald Trump that has emerged (at varying levels of sincerity) over the past few days. It was not a big deal that Trump kept presidential records and presumably some material marked as classified in a bathroom at Mar-a-Lago for several months of 2021. After all, bathroom doors lock.

One imagines a foreign spy who has managed to infiltrate Mar-a-Lago reaching the water-closet-turned-document-warehouse while twirling his handlebar mustache. But then, foiled! The door is locked!

Presumably this spy has no kids, so he doesn’t know the trick about jamming a piece of wire into the little hole on the outside of the doorknob.

Let us recognize at the outset that this line of argument, offered by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) this week, is not really sincere.

McCarthy, for example, was asked about Trump’s storage of material in that Mar-a-Lago bathroom. He countered by asking if it was “a good picture to have boxes in a garage that opens up all the time?” This is a reference to attorneys for President Biden having found documents with classification markings in a box at his home in Delaware — documents that, unlike Trump, Biden’s team quickly turned over to the government. But that wasn’t McCarthy’s point. Instead it was that, unlike that garage, “a bathroom door locks.”

On Newsmax, Cruz made a similar case.

“The press is having a field day of saying there were documents in a bathroom at Mar-a-Lago,” he said. “Well, gosh, last I checked Joe Biden had classified documents in an unlocked garage next to his antique Corvette and it’s an absolute double standard.”

In other words, the Republicans are playing the “whatabout” game. Oh, Trump stored material in a bathroom at his home-slash-event-space? Well, Biden had material in his garage. Everyone is equally culpable and therefore no one did anything bad. The end.

Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) appeared on CNN where he offered a little more context.

“As somebody who’s been to Mar-a-Lago, you just can’t walk through Mar-a-Lago of your own accord because Secret Service is all over the place,” he argued. “There are 33 bathrooms at Mar-a-Lago. So don’t act like it’s just in some random bathroom that the guests can go into. That’s not true.”

Well, is it? Again, Mar-a-Lago is a facility that often plays host to public events.

“Between January 2021 and August 2022, The Mar-a-Lago Club hosted more than 150 social events,” according to the federal indictment centered on Trump’s retention of documents, “including weddings, movie premieres, and fundraisers that together drew tens of thousands of guests.”

The Washington Post walked through the indictment and mapped the location of places where material was stored. The bathroom at issue is attached to the Lake Room, which is near a central patio that has hosted many of those events. Donalds is positive that no guest ever managed to cover the few dozen yards from one to the other, perhaps seeking out a bathroom? And McCarthy’s positive that, once they got there, someone had locked the door of the room for protection? I checked with my son — it wasn’t him.

This is the argument Trump’s allies want to have, of course — any argument that seems facially as though it contradicts some element of the indictment. The reality is that, while the documents were in that bathroom for a period, it was only a month or two in 2021. The alleged criminality centers instead on Trump’s retention of documents after he was supposed to have returned material to the government as well as his efforts to protect the material he wanted to keep.

In June 2022, for example, his lawyers told the Justice Department that they had collected documents with classification markings responsive to a May grand jury subpoena for any such material. They handed over a packet of documents and one attorney signed an affidavit insisting that nothing else was in Trump’s possession.

That was false, the indictment alleges — very persuasively. The government seems to have been skeptical immediately, with a Justice Department attorney sending an email to Trump’s team a few days later.

“As I previously indicated to you, Mar-a-Lago does not include a secure location authorized for the storage of classified information,” the attorney wrote. “As such, it appears that since the time classified documents were removed from the secure facilities at the White House and moved to Mar-a-Lago on or around January 20, 2021, they have not been handled in an appropriate manner or stored in an appropriate location.”

If only Rep. Donalds had been able to explain!

“Accordingly,” the message continued, “we ask that the room at Mar-a-Lago where the documents had been stored be secured and that all of the boxes that were moved from the White House to Mar-a-Lago (along with any other items in that room) be preserved in that room in their current condition until further notice.”

It was in this room where the FBI would find most of the 100-plus documents with classification markings that were recovered during their August search. The concern was warranted.

Trump has insisted that this storage room was locked and that the government wanted another lock for additional security. This isn’t what the message said; the government’s definition that an area “be secured” probably extends beyond “put a lock on it.” But taking Trump’s assessment at face value, the “a bathroom door locks” argument is even weaker than it seems. After all, the government is explicitly stating that this locked room was not sufficiently secure for the material it contained in general — including most if not all of the boxes that had been in that bathroom.

A storage room with a lock didn’t cut it, so a bathroom that can be locked for privacy certainly wouldn’t. A bathroom, mind you, that’s near where club members and guests might have gathered for some of those 150-odd events. At a facility that, at least during Trump’s presidency, was understood to be a likely target for foreign agents.

It is not clear as of writing how many public events Joe Biden held in his garage.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post

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