According to the White House, batches of classified documents were discovered in the private office and home of United States President Biden. In November, the President’s lawyers found the first set of classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president. They were discovered in a locked closet in Washington’s Penn Biden Center, which the President used as a private office. On January 11, NBC News reported that more classified documents had been discovered in President Biden’s garage of his private home in Wilmington, Delaware, during a search in December.
A day later, the White House publicly acknowledged that a total of six pages of classified documents were found. When asked if it could be ensured that no further classified documents would surface, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated “you should assume that it’s been completed, yes.” Two days later, the White House revealed that five more pages of classified documents were found in a storage room next to the President’s garage.
As such, President Biden and his team are under scrutiny for the possible mishandling of confidential information that could threaten national security if made public. According to the Presidential Records Act, White House records shall be brought to the National Archives and Records Administration when an administration has been completed, as was the case when Biden’s time as vice president ended. The White House has also been criticized for its lack of transparency, after having only made a public statement two months after the documents were discovered.
US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed Special Counsel Robert K. Hur to investigate how the classified documents ended up in the President’s private residence and office. The manner in which this occurred is important to establish, as this determines whether President Biden and those involved in the handling of these sensitive documents may be subject to criminal charges. According to CBS News, in order for the President to be criminally prosecuted for the mishandling of sensitive information, the Justice Department requires that the law was intentionally broken, i.e. the classified documents were purposefully removed. As such, solely negligent handling of these documents would not constitute enough for criminal charges. The White House has stated it would cooperate with the needs of the legal team.
Former US President Donald Trump is also the subject of a criminal investigation due to classified documents being discovered in his private residence in Florida. Similarly to Biden’s case, Special Counsel Jack Smith was appointed by the General Attorney in November. Nonetheless, according to the New York Times, the two cases differ significantly in the manner in which the Justice Department made these discoveries, the volume of classified documents, and the reactions to them. While “a small number” of classified documents were found in President Biden’s garage, the National Archives discovered hundreds of classified documents in 15 boxes that were in Trump’s private home. Currently, President Biden and his team have cooperated with the authorities. Trump’s team, however, “failed to fully comply with the subpoena while falsely saying they had,” according to the New York Times. These differences may result in different legal consequences.
Featured image by: Oliver Contreras for the New York Times