The classified documents drama playing out over the past few weeks in Washington says a lot about American leadership of late, elite media, and double standards. Photo credit: AP
Three weeks ago, CBS News revealed that classified documents from when Joe Biden served as Barack Obama’s vice-president had been located at the Penn Biden Centre located in Washington. Curiously, the documents were found on November 2, 2022, six days before the mid-term elections, but their finding did not make the news until two months later.
On January 11 another document came to light and the next day, after Attorney-General Merrick Garland announced the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate the case, more documents were found at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Finally, in a DOJ search on January 20, yet more documents surfaced.
Plenty of digital ink has been used since then to provide perspective zz explain how this could happen. What we do know should not bring any comfort to average citizens and highlights the differences between how those in the special classes are treated and, in particular, how those are treated in one political party versus another.
The chaos or crisis of classified documents going rogue began with Hillary Clinton, the former First Lady, Senator from New York, Secretary of State, and Democratic Presidential nominee in 2016. Mrs. Clinton’s attempt to set up a home office included the interesting reasoning that she could set up a private email system that would allow her to view, keep, and respond to emails, classified or not from home. We will never actually know the details or the extent to which she made these arrangements because when asked to turn it over to the FBI the emails were flushed, and the machines bleached. Later, head of the FBI James Comey decided to not indict the former Obama cabinet official because he did not believe the intent to abuse classified material could be proven in court.
Stretching credulity to suggest that bringing the material into her home did not severely breach secrecy standards, never mind the law, Clinton nonetheless used this incident as a basis for suggesting she received unfair treatment from the agency and that furthermore, this episode, along with Donald Trump’s unsavoury Russian connections, cost her the 2016 election. The lack of awareness elite politicians manifest when their behaviours come home to roost can never be underestimated.
Hillary Clinton’s efforts to first set up the home office and circumvent the law, then secondly cover up what happened solidified the opinions of millions of everyday Americans who believed that she saw them as “deplorables.” And she saw herself as above the law and outside of it, ensconced in a special place where those who know what is best for the peasants dwell, safe from legal prosecution, destined to oversee the great unwashed from their lofty positions. Losing to a real estate mogul who appealed to these populists only made the irony more bitter. The 45th president, however, found himself embroiled in a classified document mess as well.
Upon leaving office in January of 2021, Donald Trump exited Washington like a disgruntled child returning to his or her room after being told no to whatever their request might be. Trump believed the “Deep State” had it in for him and he reasoned they cost him the election to his Democratic opponent Joseph R. Biden, had him impeached twice and hurled empty accusations of Russian influence and corruption charges. Perhaps for this reason he decided to instruct his team to pack up boxes of classified materials and take them to his post-presidential home in Florida.
When the National Archives began asking for them to be returned, Trump hesitated to comply. By the time an FBI search (raid?) gained approval from AG Merrick Garland, the Department of Justice had been seeking the return of the documents for months. Like Clinton, Trump acted like he possessed a special place above the law. As President, he claimed, he owned magical powers to declassify materials on a whim, though that idea exists only in constitutional theory, having never been ruled on fully. Since then, the Biden DOJ has threatened Trump with prosecution for obstruction, even after the initial claims of serious breaches proved to be untrue.
More than likely, Trump, being the ever and almighty braggart, wanted the documents to protect him from criticism contained in some of them and to allow him to show off others like a hunter hangs a moose head in his man cave. There is no accounting for ego in a man like Trump like there is no measuring the hubris of Hillary Clinton. That brings us to the present chief executive, Joe Biden.
Biden claims he regrets nothing. Those words ring familiar to one about to be convicted, though no reason exists to think Biden faces any legal action at this point. What we do know, however, looks unseemly. Biden’s team packed him up in 2017. The documents came to light in late 2022, less than a week before the crucial mid-terms. The Administration and the compliant Washington press corps claim that the Biden team have cooperated since, unlike the Trump folk, and Biden’s infractions are much less than Trump’s. How they know that before the Special Counsel appointed has even investigated or released any findings baffles the mind.
The press appears intent on running interference for Mr. Biden on every front. Jonathan Capehart, of PBS’s Brooks and Capehart, said recently, “(the Biden Administration)…was taking the lead and giving deference to the Justice Department which was already investigating.” Capehart and his friends do not want to equate the document problem of Biden’s with Trump’s. The problem occurs when the parsing begins. Any legal charge will have degrees and depth, but a person charged with theft must face the legal consequences of theft.
The media, favouring Biden and the Democrats ideologically, comfortably grant the President the benefit of the doubt and consistently report about the differences between his oversights and Trump’s crimes. They salivate over the possible indictment of Trump, but whistle by the graveyard in regard to Biden’s legal exposure. If they had a shred of decency or an ounce of integrity, they might mention that Hillary Clinton’s lapse in classified judgement undoubtedly stripped the security of American foreign policy far more than anything Trump or Biden’s documents did. Hers were on an electronic device, easily hacked, not hidden in boxes in a home or a garage. James Comey, the erstwhile FBI head said as much when the investigation had been completed of Clinton’s home office.
Comey crafted his statement carefully but indicated some documents were labelled “Top Secret.” He also called her actions “extremely careless”, adding, “To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances, a person who engaged in this activity would face no consequences. To the contrary, those individuals are often subject to security or administrative sanctions. But that is not what we are deciding now.”
As the situation stands, the impressive full-pressure stance on Trump and the soft treatment of Biden reveals once again that the fourth estate plays its favourites and happily dismisses Democratic corruption because the actions always reside in good intentions, while Republican corruption demands the full application of justice.
If Aaron Sorkin, producer of the fantasy Bartlet Administration could take a crack at an ending to this back-and-forth, he would likely have Jed Bartlet go on television and say something like, “I did some unwise things, my former opponent did some ill-advised things. Let’s call it even and move on.” That might work for the high and mighty or in a television drama, but when the GS-15 intelligence analyst gets caught with a document at home, he will face prosecution.
Establishing the precedent that it is okay for the President or the Vice-President of the United States to mishandle classified misinformation means there will never be another successful prosecution of people who mishandle classified information. A jury would have a hard time convicting someone on that basis knowing the precedent aforementioned. The law must be followed wherever it takes them with Trump or Biden and the press should start focusing on reporting the legal implications of both matters rather than the political ones.
Dave Redekop is a retired elementary resource teacher who now works part-time at the St. Catharines Courthouse as a Registrar. He has worked on political campaigns since high school and attended university in South Carolina for five years, where he earned a Master’s in American History with a specialization in Civil Rights. Dave loves reading biographies.