No, Joe Biden didn't steal secret documents and refuse to return them
The right-wing echo chamber is trying to vindicate Donald Trump for crimes. And media reporting is giving them lots of fodder.
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Yesterday CNN reported that classified documents from President Biden’s time as vice president — this would be going back years into the Obama administration — were discovered in a private office:
Biden’s lawyers found the government materials in November while closing out a Washington, DC-based office that Biden used as part of his relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, where he was an honorary professor from 2017 to 2019, the source said…
…Fewer than a dozen classified documents were found at Biden’s office, the source said. It is unclear what the documents pertain to or why they were taken to Biden’s private office…
…After the discovery, Biden’s lawyers immediately contacted the National Archives and Records Administration, which started looking into the matter, the source said. Biden’s team cooperated with NARA, which later came to view the situation as a mistake due to lack of safeguards for documents, the source said.
In other words, per the reported story, not much is known about the few documents or how they got there — or even if Biden had anything to do with it, or knew about them — and Biden’s team reported the existence of the files the day after they were discovered. NARA was informed, as was the Department of Justice, which has been reviewing the discovery— as it should — which occurred in early November, per the sources.
Yet, with little known about what actually happened, CNN went into overdrive with speculation, and couldn’t help but make comparisons that insinuated equivalency to Donald Trump intentionally taking — stealing — 15 or more boxes of documents, including what’s been reported as “top secret” classified information, and refusing for almost a year to return them.
This sent MAGA world into a frenzy, with Republicans House members and senators railing, and Trump himself demanding FBI searches of Biden’s residences, including the White House.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House? These documents were definitely not declassified,” Trump said on his Truth Social account, sharing an article from CBS News. (He was referring to the bogus claim that he magically declassified the documents he stole, since there’s no evidence he did it through the usual channels; also, he has no idea if the Biden documents were declassified or not.)
The New York Times then added to the misinformation and false equivalency, as Marcy Wheeler of EmptyWheel points out:
The report has generated a lot of insanely bad reporting, including this article from the NYT — with four reporters bylined and two more contributing — that doesn’t even mention a key detail from a recent Alan Feuer scoop (which I wrote about here): that Beryl Howell might yet hold Trump or his lawyers in contempt for failing to return all the classified documents in his possession.
Peter Baker and his colleagues didn’t mention that recent NYT scoop, but it did see fit to quote the former President without fact check. Nor did they note that Biden is not complaining that this is under investigation, whereas Trump has never shut up about it. Indeed, a key part of Trump’s defense has been that NARA had no authority to refer the matter for investigation. So Trump’s embrace of this investigation eliminates a claim he has been relying on in his own defense.
Another amusing difference is that for the entirety of the Trump Administration, Biden continued to have clearance; Biden decided not to continue intelligence briefings for Trump shortly after he launched a coup attempt.
Yes, it is relevant that Biden had clearance to obtain and read classified documents during the time he was vice president and since then — including during the Trump administration and up to and including when he became president — while Trump lost clearance after Biden became president because Biden rightly saw him as a threat to national security and took away his clearance. And yet, Biden isn’t whining about NARA and DOJ looking into these few documents, nor claiming he has the right to the documents. Nor did he refuse to return them.
That is the only reason why Mar-a-Lago was searched: Trump refused for many months to return boxes of documents — not a few documents in a folder, as is the case with Biden — and claimed he owned them. He put them in a basement, and they were perused and periodically taken out. Some files were even recently found in a storage unit in West Palm Beach. Just as there isn’t probable cause for DOJ to search Trump Tower for documents — DOJ lawyers would need to show enough evidence to a judge that they believe some files are there, not just a suspicion — there is certainly no cause or reason to search any residence of Biden’s.
And Marcy Wheeler, who comes on my SiriusXM program regularly, points to yet another startling detail around this story that media either isn’t including or is downplaying: We have no idea that Biden knew anything about the existence of these documents in the office or took them there himself.
It’s not at all clear the documents were in Biden’s possession, and instead may have been brought there by a staffer — whereas Trump readily admitted he took the documents by claiming he had ownership over them. As Marcy notes:
In other words, it might not even be a Biden thing. It could be one of his staffers — and it could be a more serious issue if someone was found to have intentionally taken documents with them when they left the White House, or was using them in the interim.
Marcy warns us there will be more insane reporting ahead, as much of the corporate media will bow to GOP talking points. And, look, we may indeed find out details that reflect badly on Biden — though it’s already clear there is very little that can come out that’s comparable to the willful stealing and harboring of documents that Trump engaged in, refusing to return them. Conversely, we also many find out more details that completely vindicate President Biden of any involvement.
No matter, the media is already creating the “both sides” narrative. One CNN columnist, Stephen Collinson, focused in on what he called Merrick Garland’s “dilemma,” referring to the attorney general’s investigations of Trump. The headline was actually changed this morning — in an example of CNN perhaps realizing how it was sensationalizing and presenting these cases as equivalent. Here was the headline last night and up until about 9 a.m. Eastern Time this morning:
That was changed to this:
But the damage was already done, as stories go viral early on. There’s no reason at this point to appoint a special counsel to investigate Biden but the media is already banging the drum, and with Republicans now in charge of the House it gives them fodder for more investigations — with a media narrative helping them.
And if Garland has already been fearful of prosecuting Trump or dragging his feet at it — which I know many of you believe — this incident, and surely the media narrative, isn’t going to give him more courage. Indictments of Trump should have come already.
A House select subcommittee is being created by the newly-in-control, radicalized GOP that is going to investigate “ongoing criminal investigations” of Trump — under the auspices of the Judiciary Committee, chaired by MAGA warrior Jim Jordan — and it will try to get classified documents from the DOJ, which will surely be leaked and muck up investigations. The goal is clearly to damage or kill the investigations.
If indictments of Trump had come already, the GOP obviously wouldn’t have a chance to stop them — and it still won’t be able to do so if the DOJ hands them down before the committee gets underway. And with this story of Biden and classified documents out there, it’s even more urgent that the Justice Department move swiftly.