C’mon, guys. Get your act together. Another announcement this weekend of six more classified documents being found in President Biden’s Delaware home. Repeated unforced errors from an administration that promised, unlike its predecessor, to “bring transparency and truth back to government” is not a good sign. To have a press secretary contradicted after assuring repeatedly that there were no other unsecured classified materials to be found in any unauthorized locations undermines her and the President’s credibility.
Why, when they quietly discovered the classified material at the Penn-Biden office in November did they not immediately undertake a thorough review of all places that might have contained improperly retained documents? Even earlier, why didn’t someone in Biden’s close circle raise the issue of making sure there was nothing untoward in any of Biden’s files before letting him go on 60 Minutes last summer and blast Trump for his egregious behavior? Not to have done so is political malpractice.
To be sure, there’s a big difference between how President Biden is responding to these discoveries – reporting them immediately to the Department of Justice and turning them over to the National Archives and DoJ. The discovery of one after another handful of documents doesn’t equate to the 300+ discovered at Mar a Lago. And Biden’s actions after the discoveries is totally unlike Donald Trump’s defiant refusal to turn his over to the National Archives or respond to Justice Department subpoenas. Current polling indicates that, while the public faults both Trump and Biden for irresponsibly handling classified material, they are not yet engaging in false equivalencies. But the drip-by-drip revelations have increasingly troubling political implications. And Biden supporters are right to be ticked off.
Last week, while taking some 2022 papers down to our basement, on a whim I decided to open a couple of long-ignored filing cabinets. In one drawer, I came across an article about me in the Wichita Eagle. It was from the late 1950’s when, as a college student, I had a summer job doing promotions for a sportswear manufacturer. The job took me to places like Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. Though I remembered having had the job, I had totally forgotten the newspaper promotions that accompanied the visits. In another drawer, I found a file with letters from a federal prison, written in the 1990’s to me during my journalism years by a financier who was convicted of a crime I cannot now recall. They were from 25 years ago, and I hardly remembered having received them. I have not reread them.
This is not to put these documents in the same category as the comparable number of classified documents discovered in the President’s Delaware home/ garage and Penn Biden Office. It’s just to wonder if what we have here are cases of bad housekeeping. No intent to hide. Nothing sinister.
There is a huge difference with government-deemed “Classified” documents, which are legally required to be handled with specific security protocols dictating when and where they may be read and by whom. Controlling access to and storage of “Top Secret” documents is all the more important than what one happens to gather during decades of a professional career.
The Justice Department special counsel may ultimately conclude that the then-Vice President was guilty of non-criminal sloppiness and inattention. Of course, that remains to be verified. And special prosecutors have a reputation for mission creep, delving into uncomfortable matters well beyond their original mandates.
We need to get some perspective on the whole matter of classified information being retained outside of protected places, by some of the more than 4 million holders of security clearance. In 2017 alone, an estimated 50 million documents were deemed to contain classified information. Improper retention is so common that it’s called “Classified spillage.” As a Brennan Center intelligence expert told CNN, “The fact that this is a fairly common occurrence is something that I think the government doesn’t like to advertise, because it to some degree gives the lie to this notion that every piece of classified information is inherently, exquisitely sensitive, and that the stakes for any kind of mishandling are automatically the highest.”
Each case is different. Intent is a key variable. In most cases, material is returned, and no criminal charges are even considered.
Meanwhile the right-wing media are having a field day drawing false equivalencies between the President and his likely criminal predecessor, including raising questions about whether hapless son Hunter Biden may have had access to the newly discovered papers. The mainstream media, in an effort to assert their even-handedness, are often not helping to clarify matters.
Regardless of what may really have happened, get ready for House Oversight Committee hearings to begin in the next several weeks led by Hunter Biden-obsessed Chairman James Comer ( R-KY) and joined by ultra-MAGA performance politicians — Scott Perry, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, put on this committee by new Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
Their theme is likely to begin as “Joe Biden smuggled classified documents related to China and Ukraine out of the White House in order to protect his son, Hunter, and possibly himself from criminal prosecution.” Then they can be expected to expand to investigate “ every corrupt business dealing, every foreign entanglement, every abuse of power” alleged to have been committed by Joe Biden and his family. The Democrats’ best hope is that the circus will end up backfiring.
At a minimum, the political fallout from all this is regrettable, damaging and irksome. A President who has done a largely excellent (though far from flawless) job, has taken some bloom off the rose of his many accomplishments at a time when his 2024 reelection campaign is about to be announced and when whacko House Republicans are in ascendance. Late-night comedians, who have treated Biden more gently than they have previous Presidents, now have fodder that their writers are likely to seize upon. Even if the legal repercussions for Biden are non-existent, the political repercussions are potentially vast.
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