NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 20:34
As expected, Republicans in the US have reacted strongly to the discovery of classified documents in an office that used to belong to President Biden. They immediately drew the comparison with the secret documents that Trump still had after his departure, part of which was only found in August when his Florida estate was raided.
“Very worrying,” said Republican Speaker of the House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy about the discovery of the documents in Biden’s office. “What’s the difference between what Trump did and what we know about what Biden did?” asked Republican MP James Comer.
And, as might be expected, Democrats say they have every confidence in the pre-trial investigation that has been launched. But what are the facts?
The building where Biden had an office before he became president
CBS News reported tonight that Biden’s lawyers found about ten secret documents while cleaning up a former office of the president on November 2. How secret – confidential, secret or top secret – was not mentioned, but that it was not about nuclear secrets, according to a CBS source.
The documents were in a folder in a locked cabinet in Biden’s former office at the Penn Biden Center. That is a think tank in Washington, affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania with which the Biden family has close ties. The documents date from the time when Biden was still vice president (2009-2017). Between 2017 and 2019, he was on the university payroll. Whether he brought them there or someone else is not known. Questions about this from CBS went unanswered.
U.S. law requires documents belonging to the president or vice president to be turned over to the U.S. National Archives upon termination of office. According to the Biden camp, this archive was immediately informed of the find and the documents were handed over the next day. The archive had not asked for this up to that point, a Biden adviser told CBS.
According to a CBS source, employees of the archive have reported this to the judiciary. Attorney General Merrick Garland then asked Chicago federal prosecutor John Lausch to conduct a preliminary investigation. He was probably chosen to avoid the appearance of impartiality. Lausch is one of two Trump-nominated federal prosecutors still serving.
A question on the table is why the news of the find did not come out through an official channel, but through a leak to the press. Did the Biden camp really want to keep it a secret, as the Republicans claim?
Trump immediately responded to the news from CBS last night. “When will the FBI search John Biden’s many homes or maybe even the White House?” he wrote on his own Truth Social app. He was referring to the August raid on his Florida estate.
Donald Trump addresses Jewish Republicans at a rally in November
Unlike in the case of Biden, Trump was not concerned with a dozen, but several hundred secret documents that had not been transferred to the archive. Among them was also a document about the nuclear weapons of a foreign power, wrote The Washington Post. In addition, dozens of empty folders were found, including 48 with the inscription “secret”. The question is whether the documents contained therein have been found.
Unlike the Biden camp, Trump resisted the transfer to the archives. A search warrant was eventually required to enter Trump’s estate. Before that, in January last year, Trump had already had to return 184 confidential documents, 92 secret and 25 top secret documents to the archive.
It is painful for Biden that he reacted indignantly to Trump’s secret documents in Florida in August. “How the hell is this possible?” he said in a TV show. “This is totally irresponsible.”
Keeping classified documents after leaving government office is not necessarily a criminal offence. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went unpunished after classified information was found in her private email after her departure in 2013. According to the FBI, it was carelessness and not malicious intent.
Correspondent Marieke de Vries:
While there are significant differences between the 300 secret documents Trump withheld and Biden’s 10 to 12, there are plenty of critical questions to be asked about the documents found in Biden’s private office.
Because why was that office emptied that day by lawyers and not, as you would expect, by office workers? Did they already know something? And why is this news only coming out now, while the pieces were already found at the beginning of November? Did team Biden deliberately withhold this information so that it would not play a role in the November midterm elections?
If the latter turns out to be the case, the confidence people have in Biden could take a serious blow if he were to stand for election again. His opponent will certainly attack him on that.”