What are we to make of the discovery of classified government documents at the offices of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement? Or the documents found in the garage of Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware where he kept his 1967 Corvette? Or the discovery of five more classified documents at his Wilmington home? One answer is that Biden screwed up and now faces the biggest “scandal” of his presidency.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel, Robert Hur, to investigate the matter, so we will learn a lot more about what happened, who was involved, and whether Biden will be held accountable for the incidents. I am anxious to hear the full story, but not because I am curious, but because I want the whole incident to be over. It is only January 18, less than two years into Biden’s presidency, and we have a “scandal” that the country does not need.
When the facts are in, I expect we will know three things. First, Biden was in possession of documents he should not have had, in violation of federal law. Second, that he came into the possession of the documents as a result of the mishandling of documents by staff during the closing days of his administration, a circumstance that should be taken into consideration when determining whether Biden should be prosecuted. Finally, that Biden made matters worse after the documents were discovered in November by not to letting the public know about it.
It is this last fact that is most troubling, especially because Biden’s two years in office have otherwise been largely scandal-free. Unlike his predecessor, Biden did not lie about the incident, but instead did something worse—he covered it up. It appears that a decision was made not to release the news that the documents had been discovered to avoid harm to Democrats running in the 2020 mid-term elections.
Importantly, Biden reported the discovery of the documents to the government immediately after he discovered them. He was not under a legal obligation to report the discovery to the public. In deciding to delay release of information, Biden did something other presidents have done. That is one reason some Democrats characterize the Biden documents scandal as a “nothingburger.” Unfortunately, it is not.
Immediately after Biden reported the discovery of the documents, much of the liberal media sought to minimize the seriousness of Biden having classified documents by comparing his actions with those of Donald Trump. Trump removed more documents, we were told, and did not cooperate with the government when asked to return the documents. Some suggested that Trump was guilty (again) of obstruction of justice.
Dare I say that whatever Trump did is irrelevant to how Biden should be treated? The comparisons between Trump and Biden unintentionally reiterate the importance of applying the law fairly to both situations.
Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans have an agenda unrelated to fairly holding Biden accountable for having classified documents. Led by GOPers like Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH) and other MAGA Republicans, the incident will be used to suggest that Biden either purposely engaged in criminal conduct or is incompetent. Some Republicans will suggest Biden should be impeached as a result. Other Republicans want to use the incident to somehow exonerate Trump for the Mar-a-Lago documents. The theory in this latter case is “two wrongs make a right.”
Thus, the Republicans are weaponizing the Biden documents screw-up. I suspect few Republicans involved believe Biden purposely took the documents but will suggest otherwise. They will try to equivocate Biden’s and Trump’s actions, unfairly.
Thus, it appears that although President Biden clearly screwed up, he will experience consequences beyond the seriousness of the facts as we know them. This differs from Trump’s situation. It is what also makes it fair to say that Biden is being victimized. The documents made him vulnerable. The screw-up gives Republicans another opportunity to take a swing at Biden.
Let me make two predictions. Special counsel Robert Hur, a Republican, will determine the facts do not merit prosecution (or that he cannot indict a sitting president) and more harm will be done to Biden’s presidency by the Republican weaponization of the incident than by the incident itself. That is unfortunate. It says a lot about the party now in control of the U.S. House of Representatives and their sense of fairness.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects