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Davis, California

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

The classified document chaos

Biden and Trump have both been caught mishandling confidential documents, but the situations are not the same


By CLAIRE SCHAD — cfschad@ucdavis.edu 


Classified documents just keep turning up in places they don’t belong. First, 15 boxes were retrieved from former President Donald Trump’s estate after a probe by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Then, there were an additional 150 documents discovered at Trump’s Florida home during an August raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). 

After many months of outcry from the former president and his supporters about the fairness, or lack thereof, of the raid, in January, President Joe Biden announced that he too was found in possession of classified documents. This resulted in calls for further investigation into Biden by Trump and his backers. The former president even put out a message on his social media network, Truth Social, suggesting that maybe the White House should be raided. 

Despite the similarities between the two situations, it is important to refrain from categorizing them as the same crime.

First, Trump’s and Biden’s responses greatly differed. Biden’s attorneys worked to cooperate with the NARA and the Justice Department throughout the entire process. It was reported that the discovery of a “small number” of documents in Biden’s office in a Washington D.C.-based think tank was reported to NARA the same day they were discovered by Biden’s lawyers. In addition, his aides and attorneys worked to invite the Justice Department to conduct a search of his Delaware home, where half a dozen additional documents were found. 

In contrast, Trump failed to cooperate quickly and smoothly with both NARA and the Justice Department. In May 2021, five months after leaving office, Trump’s attorneys were contacted by NARA about some two-dozen boxes of documents that were not turned over during Trump’s departure. It wasn’t until mid-January of 2022 that NARA received fifteen boxes of presidential information from Trump’s estate, some of which were highly classified. However, in February, NARA announced that they were still looking for additional presidential documents. 

After six months of back and forth between Trump and the Department of Justice and NARA, a search warrant was executed by the FBI at Trump’s South Florida estate in August. During the raid, an additional 150 documents were discovered, some of which were marked with the highest possible security clearance.

Aside from the fact that they both concern classified documents, the situations are incomparable. While Trump took months to comply with the requests for all his presidential documents to be turned over, Biden worked to ensure that all possible documents were discovered. His attorneys even went as far as inviting the Department of Justice to search his home. 

If the cooperation of Biden and his administration and the lack thereof from Trump was not enough to convince you of the difference in magnitude between the situations, maybe you will appreciate the stark numerical difference. 

Biden was found in possession of two or three dozen documents, all of which were recovered over a span of two months. Trump had hundreds of documents in his possession that were recovered via efforts that spanned over a year. 

That being said, Biden made one critical error during the process. When the documents were first discovered at his Washington office, it was only days before the midterm elections in November. The White House failed to announce the discovery to the public until early January. This lapse in transparency from the administration has left many people questioning his honesty and speculating about what could have happened in the days between the discovery and announcement. 

In order to restore the public’s trust, Biden must acknowledge his error in judgment and not dismiss it. 


Written by: Claire Schad — cfschad@ucdavis.edu 


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