Note to the Editor: Alice Stewart is a CNN Political Commentator and board member of the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University. The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author. See more comments at CNN.
“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”
This age-old typing drill is a good reminder to hit the partisan pause button on the conversation surrounding the potential mishandling of classified information by both current and former presidents of the United States.
With President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump under separate special counsel investigations, the wheels of justice are moving on two tracks. So now is the time for good men – and all women – to leave the “whataboutism” at the door and come to the aid of our country to make an honest assessment of how our elected officials classified documents.
It must be said that despite the differences in the two cases, the revelations involving Biden should be approached with the same standard as those applied to Trump.
As for how Americans view the two cases, a Quinnipiac University poll this week shows that 60% think Biden acted inappropriately in his handling of the documents, while only 37% think he should face criminal charges. standing.
Regarding Trump, Quinnipiac found in August 2022 that 59% of Americans thought Trump acted inappropriately, and 41% thought he should be prosecuted on criminal charges.
The numbers are extremely close, and it is clear that the country is very concerned about the actions of the two leaders, as they seem to be leading a possible presidential rematch. Although the situations are like comparing apples and oranges, here’s a look at each side: the publications, the reaction, and the result before 2024.
Trump’s case is a cause for concern because of the large number of documents involved and his opposition to the government’s efforts to retrieve them. After the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved more than 180 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022, the Department of Justice issued a subpoena demanding any additional classified documents at the estate. While Trump turned over more than three dozen more classified documents in June 2022, federal agents found over 100 more at Mar-a-Lago during a court-authorized search of Trump’s Florida home in August.
Trump says he declassified the documents, claiming it’s a presidential power that can be executed “even thinking about it.” To be clear, there is still no record of how, or if, the information was declassified.
In his most flippant response to all of this, the former president said this week simply that he kept “inexpensive folders with different words printed on them,” saying they were “a ‘cool’ souvenir.”
This was like a kid collecting baseball cards, Trump seemed to suggest — this time with national security implications. He denied any wrongdoing and blamed the current president, writing, “I did NO WRONG. JOE did it!”
Trump is in a tough spot when faced with this issue. It doesn’t help to equate his case with Biden’s if they are both found guilty of wrongdoing. He could completely discount the importance of proper record keeping, but the same argument would apply to Biden.
Instead, Trump appears to have chosen to fly in the face of reason by pointing the finger at Biden while denying any wrongdoing. Based on what we know, Trump is the one who appears to be in more legal jeopardy than Biden. For that reason, he must keep his mouth shut on the special counsel’s proceedings, refrain from referring to the FBI as the “gestapo,” and cooperate fully with the investigators.
In the case of Biden, we are talking about a smaller number of documents, and an active effort on behalf of his lawyers to return them. However, the troubling timeline of the revelations raises the question: Should he be more forthcoming with the American people about accessing these documents?
On November 2, the President’s attorneys discovered 10 classified documents in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, DC, and notified the National Archives. A month later, additional documents were discovered in the garage of the President’s Wilmington, Delaware, home. None of this was made public until early January, when CBS broke the news two months after the midterm elections.
Then in mid-January, six additional pages of classified information were discovered in a storage room near the garage at his Wilmington home. On Saturday, Biden’s personal attorney released a statement revealing that FBI investigators found more classified materials during a nearly 12-hour search of the president’s home.
You have to remember that on Biden’s first day in office, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki promised that “this administration will bring transparency and truth back to government.”
But that is not the case with this document saga. Last week, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the document search was “complete” and that only one page had been found in a room near the garage. But as we now know, additional documents have since been found in the Biden home.
The press secretary insisted that they had “clearly laid out what happened.” While it’s fair to admit that there were restrictions on what she could say about the ongoing investigation, many people were left wondering how clear the White House was on the matter.
The White House soon devised a new communications strategy: promise full cooperation, attack House Republicans, and not discuss the details of ongoing matters. Although I agree with that communication strategy, it flies in the face of an administration that promises transparency. You can’t claim the moral high ground while you’re busy digging yourself out of a hole.
Meanwhile, President Biden said Thursday that he has “no regrets” about his handling of classified documents and “there are none.”
But just as Biden watched last September over President Trump’s handling of classified documents, the American people are now asking the same question: “How could anyone be so irresponsible?”
With House Republicans now vowing to investigate Biden, this slow trickle of negative news could erode his confidence and credibility and have a real impact on the president, who will have fewer legislative accomplishments to draw on out in the next two years because of the GOP majority. in the lower room. This could certainly hurt Biden’s prospects if he decides to run for re-election.
How will the saga of this document affect Trump’s 2024 aspirations? You can bet his base will continue to see him as a victim here, but rational Republicans are clear-eyed about his baggage. Not to mention that other GOP candidates are expected to step up to the primary stage. Regardless of who his final opponents are, Trump must ditch his victim messages when he hits the campaign trail in South Carolina next week and focus on issues relevant to voters, such as the economy or crime.
In the end, what is truly irresponsible is that the government would allow the blatant disregard for classified documents to continue. While we await the arrival of the special counsel’s investigations, it is clear that there is a need to reform the document protection system.
Regardless of the political implications for 2024, it’s worth remembering that these papers aren’t “wonderful keepers” or sports car manuals – they’re matters of national security.