Classified documents: How do the Trump and Biden cases differ?

January 13, 2023

The discovery of documents from the Obama-Biden Administration in at least two locations linked to Joe Biden has been greeted with dismay by Democrats and glee by Republicans, given the extensive legal troubles that Donald Trump faces for taking classified papers to his Florida resort, reports The Guardian.

Repubicans believe the incident shows that Biden has committed the same transgression as the former president—and argue that the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago and subsequent investigation were politically motivated. But Democrats insist the two incidents are different legally, while acknowledging that they present a political problem for Biden that allows Republicans to go on the offensive.

So what actually has happened?

The FBI search at Mar-a-Lago last summer discovered more than 11,000 documents and photos from the Trump Administration—reportedly including highly classified intelligence material as well as more mundane papers. Subsequently more documents were also found.

With Biden, the number of papers is much smaller —hailing from his time as vice-president to Barack Obama. The first batch was found at a Washington think tank linked to Biden; and more documents, including some marked classified, were found by lawyers in a garage and storage room during a search of Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Legally, how serious is this for Trump and Biden?

Both situations are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, which will look into the behavior and possible motivations for taking the documents.

Trump appears to have willfully obstructed efforts to recover documents, leading to the FBI raid and the decision by Attorney General Merrick Garland to launch a criminal inquiry and appoint a special counsel to weigh charges on the issue as part of a broader brief looking at investigations into Trump.

With Biden, his team said they cooperated fully and immediately returned the documents to the National Archivesv as soon as they were discovered. Garland announced on Thursday, January 12, that he would appoint a special counsel in this case, as well.

What’s in the documents?

In neither case is it entirely clear what’s in the documents, although the Trump papers are reported to have included an unidentified foreign power’s nuclear secrets and other military capabilities.

The Biden documents also reportedly contained classified papers commingled with non-classified materials, with the subjects and content yet unknown.

Notably, however, the Trump papers included some dated after his presidency, suggesting he had them while no longer authorized. All of Biden’s seem to be dated while he was in office as vice president.

What’s the political fallout?

The Mar-a-Lago raid had mixed impact for Trump. Many Republicans despaired at having to defend the former president, while others backed his claims that he was being unfairly targeted.

The Trump team will attempt to exploit Biden’s misfortunes, as he pursues his 2024 run to recapture the presidency; while the new Republican majority in the House can, if it wishes, launch its own investigation into the Biden documents.

For Democrats, the discovery of the documents is an unexpected and unwanted political headache. It dilutes their outrage at Trump’s possession of classified papers and hands Republicans an easy talking point on what had previously been a thorny issue.

What are the Trump and Biden camps saying?

The White House issued a statement on Thursday from Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, conceding “a small number” of documents with classified markings were found among personal and political papers at Biden’s Wilmington home, but didn’t say when. It stressed the president’s lawyers were “fully cooperating with the National Archives and Department of Justice.”

Trump, in a predictable response on his Truth Social network, demanded to know when the FBI would “raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House.”

Research contact: @guardian