January 14, 2023

Biden and Trump Possession of Classified Documents

by Hal Gershowitz

Comments Below

Whodunit? Well, it seems they both dunit.

It’s a serious offense in both cases, and that’s the bottom line. Both Biden and Trump have abused the privilege accorded them as the occupiers of the highest offices in the land. The primary difference seems to be that Biden is contrite, admits that those sensitive documents should not have been in his possession, and claims he didn’t know they were still in his possession. On the other hand, Trump admits he took them, says he owns them because he made a mental note of declassifying them, and insists he wants them back, as though they were his favorite snow globes from Toys R Us.

Biden seems embarrassed, while Trump is characteristically arrogant. Nonetheless, President Biden has tossed former President Trump a desperately needed life preserver. In Trump World, and, yes, in my world too, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Understand this: Vice President Biden had very sensitive, secret files that he shouldn’t have had tucked away here and there. Efforts by some in the media to differentiate between the current President’s possession of documents that didn’t belong to him and which he isn’t permitted by law to have in his possession and the immediate past president’s possession of similarly sensitive documents is interesting but somewhat irrelevant.

While there really is a big difference in how Biden and Trump comported themselves when highly classified documents were discovered at their respective properties, a serious violation of the law may well be common to both cases.

Another aspect of this national embarrassment should be of great concern to all of us. As we all know, community lending libraries seem to exert better control over the material they “lend out” than our national security agencies do. We’ve all heard about the protocols and rules supposedly in place to protect our most secret documents and control the chain of possession. Really?

I don’t wish to exaggerate the security failures that are so apparent in how both Trump and Biden have abused their privileged access to these sensitive documents. But these security failures should be very troubling to every American. You can bet they’re plenty troubling to our allies and fascinating to our enemies.

Many years ago, as a student at the University of Maryland, I worked part-time at the Petworth Branch of the District of Columbia Public Library. As I recall, people with library cards could check out books for about two weeks. If the books were not returned on time, we penalized the book hoarder two cents a day for each day the books were not returned on time. There were no computers, iPads, or other electronic devices to keep tabs on the missing books. We had a simple card file to tell us whether “The Little Engine That Could” or “The   Hundred and One Dalmatians” had been returned on time. So, the question: how in the world could our super high-tech intelligence archives have missed the fact that Vice President Biden’s borrowings were long over-due and stashed away; some in his office, some in his residence, and even some in his garage along with his securely parked Corvette.

Quite correctly, President Biden referred to former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago as “totally irresponsible.” Well, here’s the thing, Vice President Biden’s handling of classified documents had also been irresponsible. Biden apparently removed two sets of classified documents after his vice presidency ended. His flippant comment that one batch of secret documents was as safely stored in his garage as was his vintage Corvette drew few laughs. So, now we have Special Counsels investigating a past president and a sitting president for, well, dereliction of duty, to say it plainly.  

I won’t belabor the gift President Biden has presented to the new Republican House majority, which is now gleefully planning its own investigation of Biden’s mishandling of classified documents. You just can’t make this stuff up.

Now, it is true that unlike Trump, Biden, or his people, alerted federal officials that they had discovered the problem, returned the secret stash, and promised to assist investigators fully. Well, that’s commendable and, perhaps, mitigating. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that Biden was no more careful than Trump and doesn’t excuse the President for any legal infractions implicit in all these documents sitting in his old office, his Delaware home, or his Corvette’s garage.

This colossal unforced error by President Biden is manna from heaven for the Republicans. It will essentially cancel out the political blowback President Trump had brought on himself by his boorish and ridiculous hoarding of classified, top-secret documents.

Jim Jordan, the new House Judiciary Chair, has already hyperventilated (he’s always hyperventilating) that “the double standard is obvious” (between the Trump hoarding of classified documents and Biden’s discovery of classified documents in his possession). Jordan knows perfectly well that the FBI needed a search warrant to search Mar-a-Lago because Trump refused to hand over all of the documents the Federal Archives knew he had. On the other hand, Biden immediately sent the classified documents back to the National Archives as soon as they were discovered.

Trump’s handling of classified documents was irresponsible, arrogant, and possibly criminal. He insists he had the right to make them his own by simply deciding they were his. Biden’s handling of classified documents was also irresponsible and undoubtedly careless. While Biden notified the proper authorities last November that classified documents were discovered to have been in his possession long after he left office as Vice President, he made no public disclosure of the infraction. We have heard no explanation of why classified documents were in his residence long after his term as Vice President ended.

As far as we know, about ten classified documents were found, some in Biden’s office, some in his Delaware residence, and some in his garage. Upon finding them, his attorneys immediately notified the authorities and returned them to the Archives the following day.

According to a Justice Department affidavit, 184 documents were discovered at Mar-a-Lago, of which sixty-seven were classified as “confidential,” ninety-two were marked “secret,” and twenty-five were designated as “top secret.”

The law regarding the handling of classified documents is unambiguous. New Rule, as Bill Maher would say, Obey the Law!

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