Classified Blunders: How Political Negligence is Endangering National Security
Stories of high-profile politicians carelessly mishandling classified documents have steadily trickled out from the media. This post looks at three of those stories.
President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump, and former Vice President Mike Pence are all feeling the heat regarding the mishandling of classified documents. In all three instances, classified documents were found in personal residences belonging to the politicians. Their reactions to the revelations are different yet not surprising given the people we are dealing with here. Keep in mind government records must be given to the National Archives when a president or officials in their administration leave office. First things first:
President Joe Biden:
Between November 2022 and January 2023, about 20 classified government documents were discovered by President Joe Biden’s attorneys in his former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington D.C and in his residence in Greenville, Delaware. Some of these documents were dated back to his time in the Senate and vice presidency under Barack Obama. The first batch of documents at his former office was collected on November 2, while the second batch at his personal estate was collected on December 20. On November 14, 2022, AG Merrick Garland assigned U.S. attorney John R. Lausch Jr. to investigate the matter. This eventually resulted in appointment of a special counsel to lead the effort, which is still ongoing. While Biden has cooperated with investigators, he has publicly stated he has “no regrets” about how he and his team handled classified documents, saying, “There’s no ‘there’ there.” This statement comes after Biden has routinely criticized Donald Trump for nearly identical error. There is little doubt more visibility and investigations are on the way with a new Republican House majority.
Former President Trump:
Trump’s classified document situation is less clear than Biden’s. Roughly 300 documents with classification markings have been recovered from Trump since he left office in January 2021. In January 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of documents. Then, in August, FBI agents raided Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago home, taking about 33 boxes and containers of 11,000 documents. Like Biden’s case, a DOJ special counsel investigation is ongoing. A key difference between Trump’s and Biden’s cases is when and how the government was informed of the situation. Biden’s lawyers notified the White House counsel’s office immediately upon finding documents at his office. A Trump representative told the National Archives in December of 2021 that presidential records had been found at Mar-a-Lago, around a year after Trump left office. Additionally, prior to the FBI raid, a lawyer for Trump provided a sword certification that all government records had been returned. Trump has responded the way he usually does, calling the investigation and raid a witch hunt, hoax, and political persecution conducted by a corrupt state.
Former VP Mike Pence:
Mike Pence engaged outside counsel with experience in handling classified documents to review records stored at his home on January 16. Pence likely requested the review after the Trump and Biden stories broke regarding the same findings. Four boxes of administrative papers, including some classified documents, were collected by the FBI and returned to the National Archives. In all three of these stories, those possessing the classified documents denied any direct involvement in retaining classified documents. A DOJ review of the case is underway, and Pence has stated that he is cooperating with the investigation.
“Let me be clear about something: Those classified documents should not have been in my personal residence” – Pence in an appearance at FIU
Three high-profile cases of mishandling classified documents in succession make it clear that regulations regarding classified documents are wholly insufficient or so poorly enforced that leaders feel comfortable ignoring them. The National Archives was likely extremely slow to notify the FBI that documents were missing in the case of Trump’s collection. Additionally, congress is so partisan that no members will hold their party officials accountable and only use the other party's lack of compliance as a good talking point.
Let me give my thoughts on the motivation for each of these cases, as I do not believe any are intentionally malicious.
1.Biden: Longevity in office. When you have access to classified information since the stone age and regulations are not enforced, carelessness will eventually happen. Biden should and does know better.
2. Trump: Ego. Trump likes having and monopolizing items he deems important. Classified documents and information are sensitive and valuable, so someone with his personality would love to keep it for himself, mostly just to feel important and tell others he has them.
3.Pence: This is the real unknown. Given that Pence himself asked lawyers to search for the documents, it is likely early damage control before an obvious 2024 presidential run. Pence has a tight grip on his personality, usually showing the public a monotone voice and very bland answers to any question.
United States intelligence is top tier. People risk their lives and make great efforts to gather the information politicians treat in such a cavalier way. This disrespects American intelligence agencies, allies, and the general public. Hopefully, reforms can be passed to limit where leaders can take and view classified information. I believe they should not be allowed to be transported off government property and should certainly not be in anyone’s residence.
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