Folks in some quarters are very excited about reports that classified materials were found at several locations frequented by Pres. Joe Biden. Another open and shut case, right? And one that, among a certain fan base, seems poised to exonerate the former guy. The Donald, some aver, can wave goodbye to his Mar-A-Lago’s. Why? To the high minded, it’s equal justice. That’s the optimistic take.
Quick, let me pull my boots on and put this in perspective. The tit-for-tat here is as rank as a rotting corpse. Revenge is poised for a starring role. And yes Joe Biden has just handed the former guy a monumental gift. Well, that last part — maybe “handing” is an overstatement. But whatever it is, it’s not a good look.
Let’s set the context.
Secrets, Not Secret
Everyone should know this by now, but… The “big reveal” is that handling classified materials has the (obvious) potential for criminal culpability . When it swerves into chargeable offenses, premeditation is a key variable. So is intent. Selling secrets to the Russians? Or taking it home to keep by your bedside as a reminder of your former glory? These are not equivalent actions. Authorities have a duty to ask: what was the accused’s state of mind? And how did he or she act when confronted? Denial? Counter accusations? Obfuscation? Cooperation? Moving the documents in the dead of night?
A provision of the Espionage Act, for example, makes it a crime if someone, without authorization, willfully retains a national security secret “and fails to deliver it on demand” to an official entitled to take custody of it.
Another provision of the act says that a person can be guilty if, through “gross negligence,” he or she permits national security papers to be removed from their proper place of custody. That provision has historically been interpreted in case law and Justice Department practice as requiring a state of mind that is so reckless that it falls just short of being willful. [Ed. Note: p. vi of referenced report]NYT, January 12, 2023
When comparing the present guy to the former guy, a series of inconvenient truths come to light. They are not trivial. Let’s take Biden first.
His biggest problem is he’s living in a glass house. And maintaining a frustrating lack of transparency about the discovery of his document trove. At one level, the silence seems strategic: the courts don’t like chatterboxes. It’s more likely, however, that he thought he was living in a plexiglas house, protected from imminent danger. How else to explain his sins of omission?
It was, in my view, all about the “November elections.” His team knew how explosive the revelation(s) would be during the election season. Better, he thought, to wait — do the right thing, sure, but hope it stays undercover. Take the heat later. That’s a trade-off apparently some thought worth taking. Until…The heat actually arrived. 
Putting it off hasn’t helped much. The other guy’s legions are still lined up with knives and overactive imaginations. They smell the blood of hypocrisy.  
But the Republicans have their own problems. How do they attack the present guy without simultaneously attacking the former guy? Or, conversely, how do they defend the former guy without simultaneously defending the present guy? At the moment, it looks like the former guy’s supporters expect the present guy to skate. Hello whataboutism. All things are now “equal.”
The former guy’s supporters have another problem, though. What happens when the present guy is characterized by his opponents as “mentally incompetent” or “not all there?” I ask this knowing there is a cadre of folks who insist Joe Biden is beyond help. That he’s not equal to the job. Here’s what one of my MAGA loving grade school classmates has to say about the man:
I was trying to think of who Bidumb reminded me of as a kid. Got it………Howdy Doody! Except the Doody was a lot smarter! [Ed. Note for non-Baby Boomers: Howdy Doody was a marionette.]Shall Go Unnamed
Keeping the Faith
My classmate is not alone. Many on the right maintain that Joe Biden is a dim bulb. The former guy has at least eleven less than flattering nicknames for the man, including “sleepy Joe” and “slow Joe.” Steve Bannon has called Biden a “gutless, hopeless, feckless old man.” Here’s a random Facebook rant, calling Joe Biden “a buffoon senile old man that can’t make a coherent sentence.”
So how culpable is Joe Biden if he’s nothing more than a glorified puppet? Is such a person so out of it as to be non compos mentis? If so, does that mean we should point the blame elsewhere? 
Well, not exactly. You see, it’s fine when Biden the incompetent or Biden the stupid serves your political needs. But now, when you want more… When you want equivalency… It’s time to roll out the switcheroo buffet.
Now suddenly Joe Biden is the smartest guy on the block. He’s acting, some say, with clear and informed intent. Here’s Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Texas) in a hearsay tinged post about the classified document kerfuffle: “Biden stole classified documents and stored them at his think tank while he was VP… And this ‘think tank’ received $54 million in funding from the CCP (Chinese Communist Party).”
Which one is it? Senile old man or sly dog? Because, realistically, you can’t have it both ways. Although… that has never stopped anyone from trying. I fully expect an upcoming deli-combo on this one. The senile old sly dog sandwich.
Democrats, meanwhile, will continue to see the former guy as hopelessly corrupt.
Investigate, Then Act Appropriately
I am not claiming that Joe Biden is stupid or simple or mentally incompetent. Nor am I claiming he’s a genius. Or, for that matter, innocent. As for the other guy? The less said the better.
It’s probably too much to ask, but in an ideal world, the treatment of classified documents should be judged according to the gravity of the act, not the political persuasion of the person who committed it. [Duh.] That’s equal justice. That goes both ways. Everything else falls into the category of political theater.
Frankly, I expect to see a lot of political theater in the next few years. The clown car has arrived. It’s just weird to see both Biden and Trump climbing out of the trunk.
On Tuesday, January 24, reports that classified documents were found at the home of former VP Mike Pence hit the news like wildfire. This is the same Mike Pence who complained loudly about alleged double standards as he compared Trump’s classified docs to Biden’s. He probably should have waited.
Two takeaways: when you point a finger at someone, you have three fingers pointing at yourself. Early indications, meanwhile, are that the Pence situation is closer to Biden than Trump. That has to gall.
On Thursday, January 12, 2023, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Robert K. Hur as special counsel to investigate the Biden classified documents matter. I am not naive enough to think this will placate the critics. Rep. Nehls (R-TX) is already linking Hur to FBI Director Wray and the “conspiracy.” Sigh. Don’t they have better things to do in Texas?
And Rep. James Comer (R-Kentucky) has salted the earth with an accusatory letter to the National Archives and Records Administration. The choice quote: “NARA’s public enforcement of the Presidential Records Act against former President Trump while failing to disclose violations by President Biden to Committee Republicans and the American public raises concerns about inconsistent policy and procedures at the agency that creates the appearance of political bias.”
Ahem, how long did it take for the former guy to comply with NARA? How long before the public found out? See: Espionage Act (above). Facts be damned, apparently.
In my view there are only two things that will placate the Troy Nehls and James Comers of the world: Joe Biden’s impeachment and Donald Trump’s exoneration. Mr. Comer’s photo, meanwhile, will continue to shrink.
 The volume of classified documents in the U.S. is daunting. In 2016, more than 102 million pages of US government documents were reviewed for declassification; about 44 million pages were declassified. There are 2,116 distinct “security classification guides” by which different government agencies classify documents. More than 2.8 million people had security clearances as of October 2017 — more than 1.6 million with access to either Confidential or Secret information and nearly 1.2 million with access to Top Secret information. Reform anyone?
 Keeping things close to the vest was doubtless a deliberative decision involving some of Biden’s most trusted advisors. Dr. Jill, Ron Klain and his personal attorneys at the very least. Taking deliberations wider could have created a more nuanced response, but with a higher risk of leaks.
 The gain coming from the non-announcement was a slightly larger Senate majority and a Red wave that hit shore as a ripple. About as good as it was ever going to get. Bittersweet at best, which pretty much sums up politics on any day of the week.
 We still don’t know the details of either guy’s cache — and likely never will. So partisans can scream to high heaven with near impunity. This is the perfect scandal.
 Of late, there are (unconfimed) reports that Biden is blaming his staff. Man up, Joe. The buck stops here.
Copyright Leland E. Hale (2023). All rights reserved.
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