On November 2, 2022, President Joe Biden’s lawyers found a small number of classified documents in his office, in the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. They reported the discovery to the National Archives and Record Administration, and the documents were retrieved from the office the day after. A second set of classified files were found on December 20, in the garage of Biden’s home in Delaware. However, these mishandlings were not reported until January 9 this year, when CBS News reported on the Penn Biden Center documents. The White House acknowledged the existence of this incident immediately after the CBS report, and informed the public of the documents in Biden’s garage a few days later.
What makes this story particularly noteworthy is its parallel to former President Donald Trump’s withholding of classified documents in his residence at The Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida. Just to be clear, these two cases are different in their nature. The quantity of classified documents seized and turned over from Mar-a-Lago is immense compared to those found on Biden’s properties. Biden’s lawyers were also quick in turning over the documents once they were discovered, while FBI agents found 33 additional boxes of governmental documents at The Mar-a-Lago (even after Trump’s lawyers provided a sworn certification that all such records had been returned). Nevertheless, both Trump and Biden currently face investigations from the Justice Department, and each of them has been assigned a special counsel to look into their case.
The discovery of these documents could prove politically disadvantageous for Biden, as he has been attacking his predecessor for not turning over classified documents in the latter’s keeping. The sitting president runs the risk of appearing as a hypocrite, which may be especially attacked by his political adversaries. The incident could also have some effects on the possible criminal prosecution of Trump. Due to the similarities in these two cases, federal investigators might have a harder time criminally prosecuting the former president. Some also question why Biden did not disclose information about his documents to the public before the midterm election on November 8, 2022, and believe that such a revelation may have changed several key outcomes, especially in an election that Biden’s Democratic Party was expected to lose.
The mishandling of classified documents in both the Biden and Trump cases also raises questions about the security procedures surrounding the handling of classified documents in the federal government. The leakage of such sensitive documents could have catastrophic consequences on US security, so potential reforms to the system might be necessary to prevent this kind of situation from happening in the future.