As we've all learned this week, multiple news reports allege that President Biden's personal attorneys discovered Obama administration-era classified materials among his belongings at a private office, where they undoubtedly do not belong. The items were handed over to the National Archives shortly after they were allegedly uncovered in a closet during the process of packing up the space. Biden's Attorney General has referred the matter to the US Attorney in Chicago for additional scrutiny, as this episode very much appears to involve improper handling of classified information and potential unlawful conduct. "The review is considered a preliminary step, and the attorney general will determine whether further investigation is necessary, including potentially appointing a special counsel," CBS News reports. "The Presidential Records Act requires all presidential and vice-presidential documents be turned over to the National Archives. There are special protocols to keep classified information secure." Clearly, those requirements were not followed, and those protocols were not in place, on these documents.
Given the furor over last year's classified documents scandal involving former President Trump, and the heavily-covered raid at Trump's Florida residence, this story amounts to both a legal concern for Biden, as well as an awkward political moment for Trump critics -- Biden included -- who leaned heavily into that controversy. It's true that there are meaningful differences between the Trump episode and this emerging issue. But it doesn't really matter which one might be 'better' or 'worse' than the other if both involved legally-problematic mishandling of sensitive secrets. Based on current knowledge, the facts in Trump's case are relatively 'worse,' but that has no bearing on potential misconduct or illegal conduct from Biden. On one hand, Trump had far more documents, improperly keeping some even after a protracted battle with the National Archives, which came knocking after noticing missing items. Biden's team was apparently more proactive and cooperative after learning about their problem -- if their account is accurate.
On the other hand, Biden's classified documents originated during President Obama's tenure in office, so Biden didn't have the theoretical ability to have de-classified them himself, as he was Vice President at the time. Trump could have done so with his trove before hauling is to Mar-a-Lago, though there's no evidence that he actually did. Both men's sets of improperly-held classified documents were allegedly stored behind a locked door, unprotected by mandated protocols. Some questions:
(1) Biden's team says the president is unaware of what is contained in the classified documents, didn't know they were in his office, and did not review them before they were passed to National Archives authorities, who then contacted the Justice Department. If all of that is true, and some skepticism is in order, how did these materials make their way into a closet at Biden's private office, and who put them there? If they've been sitting unsecured for years, who may have had access to them? These are questions that the Chicago-based US Attorney, a Trump appointee, is reportedly looking into.
(2) Between Hillary Clinton's shameless and deceitful criminality in this realm, and now the revelations about the current and former presidents, one might wonder if any high ranking US officials from a certain generation followed the rules on the handling and storing of classified materials?
(3) If the Biden documents were found on November 2 (and turned over the following morning), nearly a week before the contentious midterm elections, how and why was that discovery suppressed until after the election? Even the New York Times seems curious about that context:
(4) One thought that initially came to mind as headlines emerged last night is whether these were low-level classified materials that may not have even been marked as such, which could lessen the impact of this kerfuffle. But if they weren't marked classified, how would Biden's personal lawyers have known what they were looking at? Indeed, it turns out, they were marked classified -- and some of the documents were deemed to contain information at the highest levels of sensitivity (update -- we're learning more information about the materials, dated between 2013 and 2016, and reportedly pertaining to intelligence involving Iran, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom):
Fewer than a dozen classified documents were found at the office, another source told CNN. It is unclear what the documents pertain to or why they were taken to Biden’s private office. The classified materials included some top-secret files with the “sensitive compartmented information” designation, also known as SCI, which is used for highly sensitive information obtained from intelligence sources. Federal officeholders are required by law to relinquish official documents and classified records when their government service ends.
This framing from CNN is...rather interesting:
Biden's newest headache... fewer than a dozen classified documents found in his private office in DC— Abby D. Phillip (@abbydphillip) January 10, 2023
"The classified materials included some top-secret files with the 'sensitive compartmented information' designation, also known as SCI" https://t.co/u4eLJQhC37
It's a "headache," you see, and it was really just "fewer than a dozen" documents, but Biden is 'trying to stay focused' on his international trip, despite this distraction. What a nuisance! This situation will reveal a lot of hackery on both sides. Pay attention. Before you go, I'll add a bonus fifth question, too: How might these revelations impact the Special Counsel Jack Smith's investigation into Trump's Mar-a-Lago documents fiasco? (On a separate prong, Smith is also looking at Trumpworld's efforts to overturn the 2020 election). There have already been allegations of selective enforcement and double standards, with some observers wondering aloud if it would be just or wise to try to prosecute Trump over presidential records. Though the details of this newly-discovered matter have no bearing on the Trump case, the political context is glaring, and could very well affect the considerations and decisions of officials weighing both situations.