During the past six months classified documents has been in the news almost a daily. Initially the focus was on classified documents being held by Donald Trump at his Florida home at Mar-a-Lago. Then, in January, the news broke that classified documents had been found in an office Joe Biden had used after his time as Vice President ended in 2017. Since that first report, there has been a constant dripping of reports of additional confidential files being found in Biden’s offices or homes. Of course the Democrats and the news media went crazy over the Trump story. Republicans have gone crazy over the Biden story and even the mainstream media is asking questions about that, though not in the unrestrained manner in which they reported on the Trump revelation.
Perhaps it is a good time to look at both situations to see what is similar and what is different. In doing so it is important to note that the general subject matter of the confidential documents has not been revealed in either case. Until it is, the general public will not know the potential impact that the wrong people seeing these documents might have on our national security.
A large, heavily armed FBI contingent entered the [Mar-a-Lago] complex in a surprise raid in August
In June 2022, after nearly 6 months of back and forth between Trump’s personal lawyers and the custodians for the National Archives, and after having received a grand jury subpoena requiring that all classified documents be given to the Archives, one of Trump’s attorneys sent a letter to the Archives stating that no more confidential material was being held at Mar-a-Lago. Apparently having some inside source indicating that this was not true, the FBI was able to secure a search warrant allowing them to enter Mara Lago and search for confidential material. A large, heavily armed FBI contingent entered the complex in a surprise raid in August. It was later reported that 184 documents were found and removed, being marked with three different levels of classification. In Trump’s case, the Department of Justice believed that the Trump team had ceased being cooperative with the National Archives. Former President Trump’s position was that he had de-classified those documents, something that a President can do, under the law, on his own. Others countered that while a President does have this authority, there is an administrative process for declassifying documents that was not followed. Because a former president of the United States was involved and a potential future presidential candidate, the Attorney General of the United States hired a special prosecutor for the investigation. He also asked the special prosecutor to investigate Trump’s potential role in the January 6, 2021 riot in Washington D.C. when the U.S. Capitol was breached. While Congress had asked for an assessment of the potential impact of someone viewing the Trump documents could have on national security, the Department of Justice has not made such a report to Congress.
In the case of Joe Biden...on four different occasions, additional classified documents have been found in three other locations
In the case of Joe Biden, apparently on November 2 his attorneys were going through some documents in an office that he had used following his vice presidency. They discovered as many as ten confidential documents in a locked closet. We are told that the documents were immediately turned over to the National Archives. The public did not find out about this until January of 2023 when it was leaked to a news organization. Since that time, on four different occasions, additional classified documents have been found in three other locations, including in a garage where he kept his favorite car. In each case, the documents were turned over to the National Archives. Initially, the additional searches that were called for following the finding of the first set of documents were done by President Biden’s personal attorneys and White House attorneys. Following cries of foul coming from Republicans that Biden was being treated differently than Trump had been treated, the Department of Justice, and ultimately the FBI became involved in the search for documents. As late as the end of last week, more classified documents were being found as the search continued. As a point of note, the Vice President of the United States does not have the authority to declassify documents. The Attorney General has now hired another special prosecutor to handle the investigation of the President’s confidential document scandal. While the search is ongoing, the Congress (now led by Republicans) have promised their own investigation into this.
Attempting to stay with the facts, it is clear that in both cases, the law was broken when classified documents were removed to off-site locations. Trump claims he had declassified his documents without going through the formal process. Is this an administrative issue or an attempted cover-up of wrongdoing? The special prosecutor will have to decide.
With respect to the Biden documents, it may seem to be a simpler case. Some however have wondered if those confidential documents in his possession may have been accessible to his son Hunter who has made unusually large amounts of money from Ukraine, China and Russia for seemingly inconsequential work. Once again, the special prosecutor will have to decide.
One thing that we can know for sure is that Democrats will point to the Donald Trump issue and talk like it is the worse violation in history. Republicans will point to the Joe Biden issue and talk like he is the most corrupt President in history. We know we can’t take what one says about the other at face value. I only wish that the FBI and the Department of Justice had demonstrated more consistency in how they have dealt with Democrats and Republicans in the past. I’m not sure we will ever be able to say with confidence that justice has been done in either case.