Classified information here, there, and everywhere

As we learn former Vice President Mike Pence also had classified documents and the National Archives begs former officials to come forward with any other documents that may be missing, it’s become clear that classified materials are everywhere and the government has no control even as everyone acted like they did when former President Trump was involved.

The political and media worlds are reeling after the announcement that former Vice President Mike Pence is also in the midst of a (mini) classified document scandal.  Earlier this week, CNN broke the evolving story by discovering communications between Vice President Pence’s team and the National Archives.  On January 16, a lawyer searching the former VP’s home  found a “small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information interspersed throughout the records,” believing these materials had been “inadvertently boxed and transported.” “Vice President Pence was unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence,” Attorney Greg Jacob wrote. “Vice President Pence understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry.”  Sources suggest the classified material was initially sent to the Vice President’s temporary Virginia home before being moved to Indiana.  The discovery prompted subsequent searches of Vice President’s Pence’s office in DC, but no additional classified documents were discovered so far.  The retrieval of these documents follows a denial last year that any such materials were in his possession in the first place.  The former Vice President himself told ABC News that he did not take any classified material from the White House.  “Well, there’d be no reason to have classified documents, particularly if they were in an unprotected area,” he continued. “But I will tell you that I believe there had to be many better ways to resolve that issue than executing a search warrant at the personal residence of a former president of the United States,” he said referring to the unprecedented raid on his former boss’s residence in Mar-a-Lago.

Of course, these revelations come immediately after a steady stream of documents has been found in various locations controlled by current President Joe Biden.  Last Friday, the FBI conducted a search of his Wilmington, DE home and uncovered more documents following discoveries in November, December, and earlier this month.  Bob Bauer, the President’s personal attorney, said the search took place over a whopping thirteen hours and summarized the findings, “DOJ took possession of materials it deemed within the scope of its inquiry, including six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials, some of which were from the President’s service in the Senate and some of which were from his tenure as Vice President. DOJ also took for further review personally handwritten notes from the vice-presidential years.”  The search was voluntary, but one can’t escape similarities to the warrant executed against former President Donald Trump last August.  The difference between the two right now is said to be quantity, as in Trump had more materials, and transparency, as in Biden cooperated with the authorities at every step of the way, but there are indications this is not entirely the case.

Initial reports claimed President Biden’s legal team discovered the first tranche of documents while packing up a Washington, DC office and that they immediately notified the Department of Justice.  We now know this isn’t strictly true.  The actual sequence of events is more convoluted and more political. The lawyer who conducted the search, Patrick Moore, notified the White House before anyone else.  The White House discussed what to do about the situation, and then chose to notify the National Archives, which is not a law enforcement agency, but is an executive department that reports to Biden himself.  The Archives did not immediately contact law enforcement either, contrary to the original reporting.  They sat on the finding for two days until the Inspector General noted the exchange with the administration.  It was the Inspector General who ultimately notified law enforcement.  As former US Attorney Andrew McCarthy describes it, “NARA, like most executive agencies, has an IG’s office to keep it on the straight and narrow, including by internally investigating wrongdoing and reporting it to Congress. The IG plainly realized that the inclusion of classified materials in government records returned to NARA from a non-secure location raised the possibility of criminal misconduct, and thus had to be reported to the Justice Department — just as the archives reported potential classified-information violations to Main Justice in early 2022, when former president Donald Trump returned 15 boxes of presidential records that had been retained at Mar-a-Lago and in which the archives discovered documents bearing classification markings.  Had it not been for the IG’s notification, it is doubtful that Biden’s illegal retention of classified information would have been reported to the Justice Department at all. And there is every reason to believe the public would never have been told.”  This, of course, follows The Washington Post’s revelation that the Biden Administration was operating under the assumption that the classified document snafu would never be made public.  As they reported last week, “Early on, Biden’s attorneys and Justice Department investigators both thought they had a shared understanding about keeping the matter quiet.”

Thus, anyone who claims they can objectively evaluate who’s better, worse, or the same as any other is making these claims before all the facts are in, attempting to define this in the world of politics rather than reality.  Sadly, it seems clear to me that politics, as in an establishment hatred for all things Donald Trump, has driven us to this point in the first place.  The United States government is dysfunctional by every measure.  Congress cannot balance the budget; billions are stolen every year through rampant fraud and abuse, just look at the stats on the pandemic relief programs if you are in doubt about the extent of the financial carnage.  We cannot secure the border or win a war.  The FBI has Russian double-agents heading up cases regarding Russian collusion.  The Supreme Court cannot determine who leaked the ruling on one of its most significant cases in decades.  Politicians and bureaucrats in general leak classified information with abandon, and few face any consequences.  Everywhere you look, the government has completely and totally failed to deliver on any of its promises, cannot even follow anything resembling a rational process, but for some reason we were supposed to assume that classified documents and governmental records are completely different.  Only in that domain, apparently, was every record properly tracked, maintained, and audited.  Somehow, classified documents were the one and only case where the government functioned the way it was supposed to, knowing the location of every item out of millions of records and auditing every ex-government official to guarantee they did not leave their post with something they shouldn’t have.  It is only when you believe that, or at least something very close to it, that the saga over Donald Trump’s records makes sense as a national scandal that might or might not require criminal charges.

This does not mean that the former President’s actions throughout were beyond criticism or reproach, but the explicit assumption underlying both the politics and the legalities has always been that politicians never leave office with either classified materials or records that properly belong to the government and that all other former Presidents, Vice Presidents, Cabinet members, Senators, etc. are fully audited by the National Archives to ensure that is the case.  Otherwise, you have the equivalent of a speed limit that is enforced for some drivers, but not others independent of the speed at which they drive.  There was never any evidence this was the case, however, especially when dysfunction in the government is rampant.  That did not prevent the media and the Justice Department from pressing ahead with stories of a former President selling nuclear secrets, blowing up what was essentially a dispute about record retention which could have been resolved amicably into a full blown scandal.  Any comparison to how former Presidents, much less former government officials in general were treated, was completely dismissed, primarily because Donald Trump is Donald Trump.  The subsequent discovery that current President Biden and former Vice President Pence both had documents and records in their possession that they most likely shouldn’t, exposes how the Trump narrative was based on a false assumption.  There is little doubt that a search of the homes and offices of former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and even Jimmy Carter would turn up items they should not technically be in possession of.  Well, maybe not Bill Clinton, he likely destroyed them all the same as his wife did with some 30,000 emails under subpoena.  The Archives itself has now issued a statement begging former officials to return any documents in their possession, requesting them to “conduct an assessment of any materials held outside of NARA that relate to the Administration for which you serve as a designated representative under the PRA, to determine whether bodies of materials previously assumed to be personal in nature might inadvertently contain Presidential or Vice Presidential records subject to the PRA, whether classified or unclassified.” 

That they are in possession of these materials is the logical conclusion one can reach based on current events, though of course their lawyers claim that couldn’t possibly have happened.  The same would almost certainly be true of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, and anyone else in Congress who has access to classified information given the news that at least some of the information in President Biden’s possession dated back to his time in the Senate, which ended 15 years ago.  Cabinet officials are likely just as guilty.  This is the government at work, after all, where there are few enforceable controls on anything.  We are now suffering through a teachable moment as to why classified documents are no different.  It is a teachable moment that need not have occurred, however.  If we had a functioning media, rather than one that was happy to parrot President Biden’s claim that Trump was the height of irresponsibility, they would have known from the President’s own record that he’s been more than willing to violate the rules concerning classified information whenever it suited his purposes.  We know this from President Biden’s own account during his time in the Senate, when he bragged about threatening then President Ronald Reagan with leaking classified information to the public if he disagreed with covert actions the administration was taking.  The New Republic covered his potential 1988 run for the Presidency in an article entitled “Mighty Mouth” on September 1, 1986.  As they put it, “He says he was ‘the single most active’ Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, a claim that is hard to assess, since the committee’s proceedings are almost entirely secret. Biden says he ‘twice threatened to go public with covert action plans by the Reagan administration that were harebrained,’ and thereby halted them. Committee rules forbid him from saying what those plans were.”

If Senator Biden was willing to leak classified information for his own purposes, why would anyone think he was following any of the rules around it?  This is true of most of the government, where leaks of supposedly secret grand jury information, military plans, and more occur on practically a daily basis.  What precisely does the media think all of these anonymous sources are doing other than leaking classified information for their own purposes, information they have in their possession that they probably aren’t supposed to and, even should they have right to access it, certainly shouldn’t be sharing it?  All of this happens all day everyday because classified documents are here, there, and everywhere, and everyone knows it now. The situation is so bad that a progressive friend of mine joked about having a team of lawyers clean out his car. This should tell you all you need to know.


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