Has Joe Biden’s Documents Storm Just Gotten Bigger?

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Republicans in Congress are seeking access to visitor logs for U.S. President Joe Biden’s homes because they conclude the discovery of classified documents at one of the residences poses a threat to national security.

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U.S. President Donald Trump December 20, 2018 in Washington, DC. [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]

The marked documents’ scrutiny

White House Counsel’s Office spokesperson Ian Sams said Thursday morning that a “limited number” of documents “with classified markings” were discovered at President Joe Biden’s house in Wilmington, Delaware, the previous night. 

All but one of these documents were discovered in a storage area in the garage at the president’s Willmington property, Sams stated in a brief press release. A single-page document was discovered among other supplies in a nearby room.

Some have drawn parallels between the potential discovery of classified material on Biden’s Mar-a-Lago property and the ongoing legal battle between former President Donald Trump and the Justice Department over a trove of documents, some of which are alleged to have contained extremely sensitive information about Iranian nuclear materials and China-focused intelligence operations. 

While it may be premature to draw any firm conclusions regarding the details or contrasts between Trump and Biden’s document difficulties due to the sensitivity of each instance and the novelty of the current president’s circumstances, there are several vital distinctions to bear in mind.

The White House announced a few days ago that similarly marked documents had been discovered in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, where the president worked from 2017 to 2019. The documents in question date back to Biden’s tenure as vice president under Barack Obama.

Later that morning, Biden revealed to the White House press that the documents had been located in his “personal library,” He emphasized that he’s “cooperating fully & completely” with the Justice Department’s inquiry into any possible mishandling of his vice presidential paperwork.

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White House Counsel’s Office spokesperson Ian Sams

Comparisons

Documents, some of which were deemed to be classified, were located at the men of both Biden and Trump, in apparent contravention of the norms for how White House documentation is cataloged and preserved after an administration ends. 

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed former U.S. Attorney Robert Hur as Special Counsel to probe the Biden documents and “the possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified files or other records discovered,” despite repeated assurances from both Trump and Biden that they are fully cooperating with the Justice Department. 

In the middle of November, Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the Department of Justice’s efforts connected to Trump.

During a brief press conference on Thursday, Garland stressed, “I will see that Mr. Hur receives all the resources he needs,” citing the “exceptional circumstances” that required this judgment.

This is a lot. While both men have faced concerns about how and why they came to have access to sensitive documents during their terms in office, the circumstances surrounding how and what was found at their homes and workplaces are very different.

After months of back-and-forth between Trump and the National Archives, culminating in a spectacular FBI raid of his property, Trump was finally persuaded to return the documents he had in his possession. 

He even claimed through an attorney that he had returned them at one point. However, the Justice Department took action after receiving reports that Trump was concealing more than 300 highly classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home. 

The agency obtained a search order and subsequently executed it, and Trump has requested that the government hand over many retrieved documents to this day.

Similarly, President Biden voluntarily informed the National Archives of the discovery made at the Penn Biden Center, where only ten or so people were reportedly involved. 

White House Special Counsel Richard Sauber emphasized that “the president’s personal attorneys cooperates with the Archives and the Department of Justice in the process to guarantee that any Obama-Biden administration records are appropriately in possession of the Archives,” highlighting the fact that the National Archives had not previously requested the documents in question or those discovered later in Delaware. 

Similarly significant is the fact that there has been no indication that any of the material found in Biden’s possession reached the same level of classification, and attendant national security breach, as that reportedly in Trump’s possession.

However, the fact is complicated by Trump’s unproven assertion that he had declassified all the documents in his possession while in president, an executive power that was legally his to use albeit not merely “by thinking about it,” as he later insisted. 

President Biden has not made any such assertion, and he would not have done so even if he intended as vice president.

The sort of classification of the individual document findings is also important, as national security expert John Schindler pointed out on Twitter. 

He said, “In real life, nobody is ever charged for misusing CONFIDENTIAL (or, for that matter, SECRET).” However, “TOP SECRET” documents, especially those containing “SCI,” can result in DoJ prosecution if mishandled.

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Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) talks to a reporter at the U.S. Capitol January 10, 2023 in Washington, DC. [Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

Political posturing

President Biden’s Republican detractors lost no time seizing on the revelations of the first and second document finds to call for complete scrutiny of the administration. 

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) called on the Justice Department to authorize a special counsel to investigate Biden in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity before AG Garland’s statement, “That’s precisely what Merrick Garland’s done to Donald Trump. 

There must be similar standards of justice in the United States… Worse for Biden is that he could not declassify anything as vice president.”

Hawley had previously defended Trump during the Mar-a-Lago search when he called for the resignations of both Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray and said that “this raid was an atrocious act of political weaponization in America.”

He continued, “It demonstrates that this administration is willing to utilize law enforcement to advance their political vendettas like a Third World country.”

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the newly appointed chair of the House Judiciary Committee, made an insinuating remark on Fox & Friends that “China” might be responsible for the theft of documents from the Penn Biden Center.

“Whose property is this anyway? Maybe, maybe not, “His words. Lots of stuff going on at the Biden center was undoubtedly supported by Chinese money.

Similarly, Jordan had previously gone out of his way to challenge the FBI’s Mar-a-Lago inquiry by telling Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in August, “When did this directive get issued, and what did it contain? The New York Times reported later that month that Jordan’s critiques had faded as the substance of the documents supposedly held by Trump became clear.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) tweeted a similar response to the latest Biden revelation: “The Justice Department and Merrick Garland seem to be targeting Trump for no apparent reason. Why? Because Trump is a Republican and Biden is a Democrat.” After the search of Mar-a-Lago in August, Greene had asked the government “DEFUND THE FBI!”

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