This article appeared in the January 10, 2023 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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Biden, Trump, and questions of classified-doc equivalence

Department of Justice/AP
This image from a court filing by the Justice Department on Aug. 30, 2022 (and redacted by the FBI), shows documents seized during the FBI search of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Peter Grier
Washington editor

What’s up with all these classified docs?

First it was the FBI search of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, which turned up dozens of papers with classified markings at multiple locations. Now the Justice Department has launched a review of classified documents found at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, a Washington think tank established by now-President Joe Biden following his vice presidency.

The White House confirmed the Penn Biden Center inquiry and said it was cooperating. Officials said the documents, discovered last November, were quickly returned to the National Archives and Records Administration.

Mr. Trump and his allies have tried to establish equivalence between his and Mr. Biden’s document problems. If voters judge them the same, it could be politically more difficult for the Justice Department to prosecute Mr. Trump for his retention of presidential records.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Mr. Trump said on his social media platform.

We don’t know everything yet about the Biden documents. Retaining classified information without authorization is a serious matter. But some experts said the two situations were far from comparable.

First is sheer numbers. Mr. Trump had more than 300 classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, plus boxes of unclassified records.

Second is lack of cooperation. Mr. Trump stonewalled requests for documents and then misled the government about papers still in his possession.

Third is possible obstruction. There are indications that boxes of documents were moved at Mar-a-Lago prior to visits from archive officials. A Trump lawyer signed an affidavit attesting all docs had been turned over, when they hadn’t.

“If upon learning that you have docs, you return them, there is no crime. That is not what Trump did,” tweeted former Justice prosecutor Andrew Weissmann.

This article appeared in the January 10, 2023 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 01/10 edition
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