Editor’s note: Alice Stewart is a political commentator for CNN and a board member of the John F. Kennedy Institute of Politics at Harvard University. The opinions expressed in this comment are those of the author. See more opinions on CNN.
“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”
This age-old typing exercise is a good reminder to hit the partisan pause button on the conversation surrounding the potential mishandling of classified information by the current and former presidents of the United States.
With President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump under separate investigations by special counsel, the wheels of justice are turning in two directions. So now is the time for all good men and women to leave the “what’s up” at the door and come to the aid of our country with an honest assessment of how our elected officials handle classified documents.
It goes without saying that despite the differences in the two cases, the revelations surrounding Biden must be treated to the same standard as those applied to Trump.
As for how Americans view the two cases, a Quinnipiac University poll this week shows that 60% think Biden acted inappropriately in the way he handled the documents, though only 37% think he should. face criminal charges.
As for Trump, Quinnipiac found in August 2022 that 59% of Americans thought Trump acted inappropriately, while 41% thought he should be prosecuted on criminal charges.
The numbers are remarkably close, and it’s clear the country shares serious concerns regarding the actions of both leaders, as they appear headed for a possible presidential rematch. While the cases are like comparing apples and oranges, here’s a look at each side: the revelations, the response, and the ensuing fallout before 2024.
Trump’s case is troubling because of the large number of documents involved and his resistance to government attempts to recover them. After the National Archives and Records Administration recovered more than 180 classified documents from Mar-a-Lago in January 2022, the Department of Justice issued a subpoena demanding any additional classified documents in the estate. While Trump turned over three dozen more classified documents in June 2022, federal agents found more than 100 more at Mar-a-Lago during a court-approved search of Trump’s Florida home in August.
Trump maintains that he declassified the documents, claiming that it is a presidential power that can be executed “even thinking about it.” To be clear, there is still no record of how, or if, he actually declassified the information.
In his most flippant response to all of this, the former president said this week that he simply kept “financial folders with various words printed on them,” noting that they “were a ‘cool’ souvenir.”
This was like a kid collecting baseball cards, Trump seemed to suggest, only this time with national security implications. He continued to deny any wrongdoing and blamed the current president, writing: “I DID NOTHING WRONG. JOE DID IT!”
Trump is in a tough spot when it comes to tackling this issue. Comparing his case to Biden’s doesn’t really help if both are found guilty of wrongdoing. I could downplay the importance of proper record keeping entirely, but the same argument would apply to Biden.
Instead, it appears that Trump has chosen to go against reason by pointing the finger at Biden while denying any wrongdoing. From what we know, Trump appears to be in greater legal danger than Biden. For that reason, he must keep his mouth shut about the special counsel’s proceedings, stop referring to the FBI as the “gestapo” and, in fact, fully cooperate with investigators.
In Biden’s case, we are talking about a smaller number of documents and an active effort by his lawyers to return them. However, a troubling timeline of revelations begs the question: Should he have been more forthcoming with the American people about the discovery of these documents?
On November 2, the president’s lawyers discovered 10 classified documents in a locked cabinet at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, DC, and notified the National Archives. A month later, additional documents were found in the garage of the President’s home in Wilmington, Delaware. None of this was made public until early January, when CBS broke the news two months after the midterm elections.
Then, in mid-January, six additional pages of classified information were found in a storage room adjacent to the garage of his Wilmington home. On Saturday, Biden’s personal attorney issued a statement revealing that FBI investigators found more classified materials during a nearly 12-hour search of the president’s home.
You should remember that on Biden’s first day in office, then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki promised that this administration would “bring back transparency and truth to government.”
But that has not been the case with this saga of documents. Last week, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the document search had been “complete” and only one page was found in a room adjacent to the garage. But as we now know, additional documents have since been found at Biden’s home.
The press secretary insisted that they had “exposed very clearly what happened.” While it’s fair to acknowledge that there were restrictions on what she could say about the ongoing investigation, many wondered how clear the White House has been on the matter.
The White House soon devised a new communication strategy: promise full cooperation, attack House Republicans, and stay out of the details of an ongoing matter. While I agree with that communication strategy, it goes against an administration that promises transparency. You can’t claim the moral high ground when you’re busy climbing out of a hole.
Meanwhile, President Biden said Thursday that he has “no regrets” about his handling of classified documents and “there is nothing there.”
But just as Biden wondered last September about President Trump’s handling of classified documents, the American people are now asking the same question: “How could someone be so irresponsible?”
And now that House Republicans have vowed to investigate Biden, this slow trickle of negative news could erode his trustworthiness and credibility and have a truly detrimental effect on the president, who will have fewer legislative accomplishments to promote in the next two years due to to the Republican majority. in the lower house. This could certainly hurt Biden’s prospects if he decides to run for re-election.
How will this document saga impact Trump’s 2024 aspirations? You can bet his base will continue to view him as a victim here, but rational Republicans have clear eyes on his baggage. Not to mention, other Republican candidates are expected to take the primary stage. Regardless of who turns out to be his competitors, Trump must shed his victimhood message when he begins campaigning in South Carolina next week and focus on issues relevant to voters, such as the economy or crime.
In the end, what is truly irresponsible is for the government to allow its callous disregard for classified documents to continue. As we wait for the special prosecutor’s investigations to unfold, it is clear that the document protection system must be reformed.
Regardless of the political implications for 2024, it’s worth remembering that these documents aren’t “cool souvenirs” or sports car manuals, they’re matters of national security.