The Memo: Biden documents deliver political gift for Trump
Former President Trump has got an unexpected political gift with the revelation that documents marked as classified were found in an office previously used by President Biden.
The discovery, which dates to November but only publicly emerged on Monday, will have big political reverberations.
There are key differences between what appears to have happened in Biden’s case and Trump’s conduct at Mar-a-Lago.
In the case of the former president, his possible withholding of classified documents sparked an FBI raid last August. The matter is being probed by Special Counsel Jack Smith and many legal experts believe Trump faces jeopardy on potential obstruction charges.
The obstruction element is simply not part of the Biden story, at least as known so far.
But the distinction appears likely to be lost on a significant share of the public — especially those voters already skeptical about Biden.
The most simplistic explanation of the story, shorn of nuance — Trump and Biden both had classified documents — is sure to take root in many minds.
Trump allies are already arguing that the two matters are essentially the same.
“I just keep thinking about the geese and the gander,” Michael Caputo, a longtime friend and former advisor to Trump, told this column.
“From my perspective, none of this is lost on the average American,” added Caputo, who is now a senior executive with a conservative Spanish-language media company, Americano Media.
“The hypocrisy of Washington shines through on this… [Biden] will be celebrated on TV networks as someone who was doing the right thing in turning the documents in….There were no early morning raids. There was no search of the premises. And there will be none.”
Trump himself sounded a similar theme on social media.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?,” he asked on Truth Social.
The former president also posted supportive comments from Republican members of Congress, including Reps. Andy Biggs (Ariz.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), Ronny Jackson (Texas) and Troy Nehls (Texas).
The congressional backing will be important as the story unfolds — not only because Republicans now hold the House majority but because on Tuesday they set up a subcommittee to look into the “weaponization” of the government.
The panel, which is in essence looking into what Trump calls “the Deep State” and what his critics say is a conspiratorial fiction, was created on a straight party-line vote. The panel is sure to probe deeper into the Biden documents.
The Biden documents were discovered by the president’s personal attorneys in November as they were clearing out an office he had used at a University of Pennsylvania facility in Washington, D.C.
Upon discovering a modest number of documents — reported as fewer than a dozen — the attorneys appear to have promptly alerted the White House Counsel’s office, which then notified the National Archives. The Archives reportedly took possession of the documents the day after they were discovered.
The discovery of the Biden documents is likely to complicate the calculus for Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice as they weigh whether to press criminal charges against Trump.
While Garland and his department insist as a matter of course that they follow the facts where they lead, in the real world the criminal prosecution of a former president would be an enormous step.
It would be made a notch or two more divisive in the wake of the revelations about Biden. Garland has asked a Trump appointee, John Lausch, to conduct an initial review of the Biden matter. Lausch is the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
George Conway, the lawyer who gained prominence for his vivid criticisms of Trump while his wife Kellyanne Conway was working for the then-president, tweeted that it was “silly” to suggest that the odds of a prosecution of Trump had declined with the discovery of the Biden documents.
“What makes a Trump indictment necessary is his obstruction and lying,” Conway wrote. “If he’d given the stuff back to NARA when he was first asked to, there would never have been a criminal investigation.”
Still, there is at least one key question that hasn’t been answered so far by the White House. The Biden documents were reportedly discovered on Nov. 2, six days before the midterm elections in which Democrats fared unexpectedly well.
No convincing explanation has yet been given as to why it took so long for the matter to become public.
The new House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), told reporters Monday, “They knew about this a week before the election. Maybe the American people should have known that.”
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, argued that reality and perception look likely to diverge in the case — to Trump’s likely benefit.
“The initial response from Biden and his team is markedly different from what we saw with Trump, and that needs to be made clear,” Zelizer said.
But “nuance doesn’t often play well in politics,” he added. “I think the bumper sticker might just say ‘This is the same thing.’ Certainly the Trump people will try to use it that way.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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