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One man’s gaffe, another man’s gift? What we know about the Biden classified documents

It’s quite the gift for Donald Trump – the news he wasn’t the only one storing classified documents in unauthorised and insecure locations.

In a political climate where “whataboutism” so often drives the discourse, former President Trump and the Republicans are making the most of the revelation President Biden has, it seems, been very careless with his own classified documents.

The current president certainly has lots of questions to answer.

So what do we know? And to what extent is there an equivalence between the case of Mr Trump and the classified documents found at his Mar-a-Lago home and documents found belonging to President Biden?

What was found and when?

According to the president’s special counsel, Richard Sauber, staff were clearing out an office once used by President Biden at his think-tank, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. The documents and office date from a time when Mr Biden was President Obama’s vice-president.

During the clear-out, just before last November’s midterm elections, boxes were found in a locked closet.

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Biden ‘cooperating’ over classified docs

Most of the boxes contained paperwork relating to the Biden family – personal documents.

But among them was an envelope marked “VP Personal”.

In all, about 10 documents were marked as “classified”. They included intelligence memos and national security memos relating to Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom. Their contents have not been revealed.

Their discovery prompted Biden’s lawyers to check if any other classified documents had ended up in the wrong place. It turned out they had – a “small number of additional Obama-Biden administration records with classified markings” were found at President Biden’s Delaware residence.

What have Trump and his allies said?

In a series of posts by Mr Trump on his social media site Truth Social, the former president said: “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?”

Mr Trump’s allies in congress are demanding answers, led by the newly-elected speaker of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy, who called the revelations “very concerning”.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump claps as he announces that he will once again run for U.S. president in the 2024 U.S. presidential election during an event at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S. November 15, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

The key differences between the Trump documents and the Biden documents?

Firstly, quantity. Fewer than twelve documents were found at the Penn Biden Center and “a handful” were found in Delaware. More than 160 were found at Mar-a-Lago. This excuse might not hold water: one document in the wrong hands could be one too many.

Secondly, location. In relation to the first batch of Biden documents discovered, it’s arguable that a private office-space is distinct from a personal home which doubles as a country club (Mar-a-Lago). But then the second batch was found in President Biden’s garage alongside, as it happens, his Corvette!

The key difference between the two cases is intent. It’s not unusual when someone at the top of government leaves office to find cases where documents of a secret nature get mixed up with those of a personal nature.

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Biden’s team are arguing the discovery was reported immediately, and the documents were surrendered to the National Archives.

In Mr Trump’s case, the FBI, who raided his home, said his team pro-actively took them to Mar-a-Lago and that there was obstruction of attempts to get the documents returned to the National Archives – the case remains under criminal investigation.

The questions unanswered?

There is plenty still for President Biden to explain. Did Mr Biden pro-actively take the documents to the Penn-Biden Center and his Delaware residence? If so, why? What role did he personally have in their placement in the office closet and the garage? Who else had access to them? How long had they been there?

Another key question involves transparency. We now know that the first batch of documents was discovered on 2 November – six days before the midterm elections, yet we didn’t find out until this past week. Was the Biden team worried an announcement could impact the midterms? It looks that way. The optics are terrible. The opportunities for the Republicans are huge.

When it emerged President Trump had so many top secret documents in his possession, Biden asked: “…how that could possibly happen? How anyone could be that irresponsible? What data may be in there that may compromise sources and methods?”

He must now apply those same questions to himself.

What now?

The special counsel will begin his investigation. Separately, the Republican-led committees on Capitol Hill will carry out their own politically-fuelled inquiries.

From what we know so far, the cases of Trump and Biden are, objectively, different. But politically that may not matter. The attention is and will remain on President Biden. That’s bad news for him.

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