When Donald Trump’s troubles with classified documents surfaced, and the pictures of them scattered on his office floor by the FBI made their way around the internet and news stories, a vast majority of Americans were shocked at his carelessness and sloppiness.
The fact that the FBI had to go retrieve them, and that Trump and his attorneys lied about having them, was just par for the course when it comes to Trump’s honesty and flirtation with crime.
There were pundits who rightly said that the National Archives and Justice Department didn’t act quickly enough to get Trump to return those documents. It took over a year for them to start retrieving Trump's trove. The evidence is overwhelming that he stole them, that he hid them, and that he used them to boast about how important he was and all the secrets he knew.
These same pundits and legal experts referred to the Trump document scandal as “low hanging fruit,” meaning that compared to everything else he’s done, this was blatant lawbreaking, understood by the general public, and could lead to an easy conviction. “Charge him now,” they pleaded. “Before it’s too late.”
Well, because Trump slips through trouble like rats through a sewer grate, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Department of Justice are now in a regrettable conundrum – more like a cesspool – with Trump’s documents heist. They can certainly be accused of dragging their feet; however, by waiting they’ve potentially screwed themselves out of indicting Trump.
When revelations surfaced that President Joe Biden also had classified documents at his post-vice-presidential office and his private residence, the playing field suddenly became even, much to the delight of Donald Trump and the Republican party. Garland and the DOJ will be labeled hypocrites, and far worse, if they indict Trump who deserves it, and give Biden a pass, which at this point, seems the right thing to do.
Regardless of the fact that is the right thing to do, and if the scenario above plays out, it will create a political firestorm. Biden, guilty by association and on the surface committing the same crime as Trump – at least how public perception goes, will also lose a major political advantage which was the democrats' plans to highlight Trump’s cavalier treatment of classified material as a central campaign issue.
The issue for Biden, up to this point, has been his age, and that’s still a major consideration for many voters. Biden does his best to appear youthful. He jaunts up the steps of Air Force One, makes sure photographers catch him bike riding, and while appearing with the NBA champions Golden State Warriors at the White House this week, he got down on one knee for a photo, and bounced back up, something many 80-year-old folks might have trouble doing.
However, most voters aren’t taking notice of Biden’s mobility and flexibility performances. They know that Biden is in his 80s, and they also know that their parents, relatives, and neighbors are in their 80s as well, and that’s the simplest way for people to comprehend and compare how an octogenarian behaves, And the majority aren’t as sprightly as Biden.
Most voters are also not paying much attention to all the details and differences surrounding Trump and Biden’s document imbroglios. If anything, the populous is more familiar with the continuous overhead shots of Mar-a-Lago, and Biden’s riverfront Wilmington, DE home.
There isn’t time for people to get into the weeds about each particular case. When they hear that Biden, along with Trump, had classified documents at his house, they shrug and say, “Everyone must do it.”
Think that does mean anything? While she did run a poor campaign, according to some consultants, it was Hillary Clinton’s email scandal that had a big part in her losing her presidential run in 2016. It was drip, drip, drip of bad news, then Comey closed it before he opened Anthony Weiner’s computer, and the whole thing started over again.
That’s the problem with Biden right now. Every day it’s drip, drip, drip with more news about new documents found, where they were found, what happened to them, who saw them, who had access to them, etc., etc. etc. And everyone in the administration, including the president, is remaining mostly silent while the bad news cascades. Biden half-hardheartedly addressed the issue on Thursday in California, These questions are going to persist, and the longer they go unanswered, the more opportunity for Republicans to create a sleazy narrative.
Then another bombshell on Saturday. According to the New York Times, investigators for the Department of Justice seized more than half a dozen additional documents, some of them classified, from Biden's now-famous Wilmington home. On Friday, pundits questioned why, in the middle of Winter, Biden was heading to his summer beach house in Rehoboth Beach, DE instead to his home. Now we know why, and now we know that Biden can't sustain this anymore, and it will be impossible for him to run for president.
Biden’s team said this week that he’s likely to announce whether he’ll seek re-election after his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, February 7. That means roughly three more weeks for the Biden document scandal to fester, and that’s not the kind of run-up you want prior to going public about your intention to run for re-election.
He may get the annual and usual State of the Union bounce in his poll numbers, but you can be sure, Republicans will slap that down by feeding the Biden sensitive document news beast. And the pressure on the attorney general, and the special counsels overseeing each of the Trump and Biden cases will be intense.
If Trump is indicted, and Biden is given a pass, which is what should happen, the rhetoric will escalate on both sides, and it won’t be pretty. Try as they might, Democrats will have to keep answering for why Biden was exonerated, and Trump wasn’t, and once again, the political divide will sharpen as fervent Trump and Biden supporters take their respective sides.
If Biden and Trump are the early entrants into the 2024 presidential race, an illegal document ad war will begin. Remember those aerial shots of Mar-a-Lago? Well, Democrats’ ads will include images of hovering over Mar-a-Lago with ominous music. And not to be outdone, Republicans will answer with aerial shots of the Wilmington house complete with their own ominous melodies.
Will the fact that Trump and Biden both got caught up in a document scandal make the issue a wash? Possibly, but unlikely. Stealing and hoarding classified documents is easy for the general public to grasp.
When you start talking about Trump’s taxes, or the intricacies of messing with our democracy, people may think it’s serious and bad, but it requires them to go into the weeds to truly understand, and nobody has time for that.
That’s why Democrats will push Trump's document issue because in their own language, it’s low-hanging fruit that people can digest. And that only means that Republicans will go full throttle on Biden’s own issues with classified documents, and this will most likely make voters, particularly independents, sour on Biden since they’ll assume that Biden did the same thing the crooked Trump did.
It won’t be Biden’s age that does him in, although you can see Republicans tying his age and the documents together, i.e., a doddering, forgetful old man misremembered that he took highly sensitive documents. And even though he didn’t take them, they were in his home, and his office, just like Trump.
Democrats need to have a come-to-Jesus moment with Biden, and they need to realize the implications of how his document scandal will come back to haunt them and backfire.
Even if Biden is cleared of any wrongdoing, the damage is done, especially as more classified documents continue to be found. For the good of the party, Biden needs to step aside, and that’s not an easy thing to say about a president most of us admire, like and respect, and who would never, in a million years, intentional steal sensitive documents.
Biden is a fighter, and he's likely to hang in there and push through; however, would his ongoing battle end up being a loss for Democrats?
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.