Last week, CBS “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan asked Democratic Rep. Dan Goldman why President Biden would dispatch his personal attorney, who didn’t have proper security clearance, to his Delaware home to search for classified documents. Presumably, Brennan believed that when searching for classified documents, one should have the credentials to actually read them. Brennan’s focus on who was reviewing Biden’s papers touched on a potentially interesting line of inquiry. The question hanging in the air, however, relates to the discovery that started this whole process: Why would lawyers be “packing up” Biden’s office in the Penn Biden Center in the first place?
Not unlike other politicians, Joe Biden has done a terrific job of turning political success into a financial windfall. But someone who considered himself “middle-class Joe” for decades should realize the wastefulness of having lawyers perform a task that a trusted intern or aid could perform. As many big-time East Coast lawyers now routinely charge $1,000 an hour, it’s an awfully expensive packing crew – unless the intent wasn’t truly to “pack” but rather to purge.
The timing here is suspicious as well. Apparently, this moving crew was at Biden’s University of Pennsylvania office a week before midterm elections that were widely anticipated to turn control of the House over to the Republicans. As Republicans had signaled that they were going to be spending considerable time wearing out the subpoena powers of various House committees to investigate Biden and his family, it would be an auspicious time to get rid of anything damaging. By using lawyers to carry out the document purge, Biden would be able to attach attorney-client privilege to their efforts, thereby avoiding damaging testimony about the contents of any shredded documents.
To be clear, there’s nothing illegal about getting rid of musty records in the absence of a valid document retention request. The Biden administration made it clear that it would not consider any such request valid until the new Congress was sworn in and the various committee chair gavels handed out. In a response to document requests made in December from Reps. Jim Jordan and James Comer, an administration lawyer responded, “Congress has not delegated such authority to individual members of Congress who are not committee chairmen, and the House has not done so under its current Rules.” In short, you’ll have to start over. Biden was effectively setting a hard deadline for when document purges go from being propitious to being illegal.
Unfortunately for the president, the attorneys tasked with shutting down his University of Pennsylvania office stumbled across top secret government documents and understood the consequences. Had they not made those discoveries, we likely would have never heard of these high-priced packers.
Republicans, including Donald Trump, have been quick to point out the timing of the initial discovery and the lack of prompt public disclosure. They believe the midterm elections might have been more favorable to Republicans if it was clear that Trump wasn’t the only one potentially breaking the law. Maybe. But the timing and process does lead to questions about what more the current president might have to hide.
For now, President Biden wants us to take him at his word that this whole classified documents mess is nothing more than an honest mistake. As he says, “There’s no there, there.” That may be true, but the activities that preceded the classified document discoveries raise different questions. From a man who campaigned on elevating the standards at the White House, this is disappointing to say the least.