With every new cache of classified documents discovered in Joe Biden’s possession, the president’s excuses become more farfetched.
Biden’s defenders like to stress that the president has “cooperated” with investigators. No harm, no foul. Ana Navarro of “The View” argues “it’s very important to understand the difference between cooperation and obstruction.” Neal Katyal snarks that it’s “amazing how you don’t need a search warrant when a President is actually willing to invite investigators inside.”
Not really. Biden’s lawyers almost surely asked for an FBI search of the president’s property after they knew special counsel Robert Hur would be compelled to obtain a warrant and conduct a search. Don’t take my word for it. Buried in today’s New York Times piece on the matter, we learn that, “[e]veryone involved understood and agreed that the discovery of those six pages meant that the government would have to conduct its own search of the work and storage areas in the house…” There was no political or legal upside in resisting the inevitable.
Which brings us to another pervasive defense of the president, which asserts that Biden had “immediately” handed over documents found in his “think tank,” just as protocol dictates. No harm, no foul. This claim is also preposterous. All we know for sure is that Biden was in possession of classified documents, including some top secret ones, for at least six years — perhaps decades, since some of the documents date back to his time in the Senate. That, at best, points to a pattern of mishandling documents over many years, not a single filing mistake. That is true regardless of what Trump did or didn’t do.
Even if we allow that the first small batch of classified documents was accidentally stashed in his Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, why did it take six weeks for Biden’s lawyers — who have no security clearance — to search the president’s garage and “adjacent rooms”? If they really believed that the documents found in Penn Biden documents were just a weird oversight, why start rummaging through boxes in the president’s garage? For that matter, why did Biden tap lawyers, rather than interns or movers or aides, to search reams of files and folders that had been sitting in drawers — allegedly undisturbed for years — at Biden’s “think tank” in the first place? Did a government or law enforcement agency contact Biden in connection to those documents?
We did not learn about any of this until Jan. 9. The documents were uncovered on Nov. 2. A cynic might also point out that the week lawyers supposedly stumbled across classified documents, Biden was aware Republicans were likely to take over the House. The GOP, he knew, would soon be armed with investigatory powers and they might take an interest in his slush-fund-y “think tank.” It makes sense that he would deploy personal lawyers, covered by attorney-client privilege, to find any problematic documents.
Perhaps there are other, more innocent, explanations, but the initial justifications for Biden’s possession no longer make sense. Today’s Times piece grapples with this reality, noting that “former officials who had been involved in the process of packing and shipping such material” theorize that one set of materials was documents that “might be useful to Mr. Biden for his post-vice-presidential career in public life or teaching, like his speeches and unclassified policy memos about topics he was interested in” and the other set was more personal stuff. All that sounds innocuous enough.
The problem, though, is that the White House claimed on numerous occasions that Biden had no inkling that classified documents were in his possession. Let’s say the president never opened any of those documents to assist in writing his memories or to teach his class (the nine times he showed up for a million-dollar gig). It is highly improbable that aides packing these boxes, divvying up documents into specific categories for Biden’s use, would not have noticed six “items” potentially filled with classified documents. Surely you remember the leaked picture of marked classified documents splayed across the floor at Mar-a-Lago?
Of course, if Biden was a stickler for transparency, he would have released a statement on Nov. 3. If he had nothing to hide, his personal lawyer Bob Bauer wouldn’t be using weaselly legalese to claim that the Department of Justice seized “six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding material” this weekend, rather than providing the number of overall documents found. An “item” could be a cabinet. But you’ll remember one of the big distinctions between the Trump and Biden scandals was that the current president was supposedly in possession of far fewer documents, and thus the crime was less severe. CNN even produced a little infographic stressing the disparity in the number of documents. Now what?
As Politico’s Josh Gerstein pointed out when the Penn Biden Center story broke, 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.” Indeed, one would have to abandon all healthy journalistic skepticism and common sense to believe the excuses Biden and his defenders have offered to this point.