Our political media really want you to know that Joe Biden’s classified document controversy is completely different from Donald Trump’s. And, as soon as CBS News reported that Attorney General Merrick Garland had assigned the U.S. attorney in Chicago to review how “roughly 10” classified documents ended up in President Biden’s office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, pundits and reporters began trying to mitigate the political fallout and diffuse claims of a double standard.
In today’s Politico Playbook, “courts guru” Josh Gerstein tells us that one of the distinctions “worth noting” between the two incidents is that there are fewer documents at stake, “about 300 in the Trump case versus ‘a small number’ at the think tank.”
Listen, I’m no guru, but I was unaware that there was a “small number” exemption in the laws pertaining to the mishandling of classified information. After all, Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who was about to testify in front of the 9/11 Commission, stuffed copies of a single classified report down his pants in 2004. He was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service, was stripped of his security clearance, and lost his law license. As a legal and political matter, the attempted destruction of a single report detailing the Clinton administration’s failures regarding Islamic terrorism mattered quite a bit at the time. Certainly, it’s not just a matter of numbers.
Nevertheless, Gerstein argues that it’s not unusual “for small numbers of emails or documents that are classified to get mixed in with unclassified records,” but it is “hard to argue you don’t know what’s lying around your house if there’s a lot of it.”
Is it? The media keeps mentioning this “think tank” to convince readers that it’s all just a big misunderstanding. I mean, who does anything wrong at a think tank, right? Of course, the institution in question was home to Biden’s personal office at a “job” he held with the University of Pennsylvania from 2017-19 — where he made nearly a million dollars for nine visits to the actual school (one of them to sell his novel, “Promise Me, Dad.”) Does Trump know what’s “lying around” his 62,500-square-foot, 58-bedroom home any more than Biden does his office? Maybe. It is almost surely the case that security at this larger residence, provided by the Secret Service, is as good as what one might find on the sixth-floor office of a “think tank” in the middle of D.C.
The “where” doesn’t really matter.
In truth, most fights over classified documents are overblown. Who knows? Maybe both Biden and Trump accidentally lifted classified documents. Or maybe both hand-picked embarrassing documents they didn’t want made public and took them. (Unmentioned in most stories is the fact that vice presidents have fewer privilege than presidents when handling sensitive documents.) Maybe they’re both lying about how many documents they have. Maybe neither of them knew. The one major difference right now, as Joy Behar might say, is that Biden is given “the benefit of the doubt.”
In its initial report on the Mar-a-Lago raid, The Washington Post had insinuated that Trump had snuck nuclear codes out of the White House. Hysterics like Michael Hayden and Michael Beschloss wanted the former president dragged to the electric chair for selling secrets to the Ruskies. As with every Trump story, it was prudent to wait. We still don’t know what documents were in his possession.
The same goes goes for Biden. CNN reports that two sources — both, almost certainly connected to Biden — say that the former vice president was in possession of “intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom.” Those topics seem quite relevant. Where is the outrage? CNN tempers the news by assuring us that the “vast majority of the items in the office contained personal Biden family documents, including materials about Beau Biden’s funeral arrangements and condolence letters.” One assumes that the vast majority of boxes at Mar-a-Lago are also teeming with personal business. It’s completely irrelevant. As is CNN’s preposterous embedded infographic comparing the two cases — Biden is “cooperating” with his own administration, it notes, but Trump is “under investigation for obstruction,” and so on.
The highly curated leaks from Biden’s people are meant to get in front of the news. That’s their job. The political media, in turn, repeated, nearly verbatim, what they are told. That’s not their job. Their job is to be as skeptical of Biden’s contentions as they were of Trump’s or Clinton’s. The president, after all, has proven to be an inveterate liar.