In hindsight, Joe Biden may regret calling Donald Trump’s stance on sensitive information “irresponsible.” For three weeks, dripping revelations about confidential documents found in one of Biden’s former offices and in his garage have been quite chaotic for the American President. As with Donald Trump, the Attorney General has appointed a special prosecutor to investigate these failures. But if the threat of impeachment for his predecessor is very real, Joe Biden appears to be losing political capital at the moment.
The scale: Trump has ten times more confidential documents than Biden
For Donald Trump, the soap opera lasted more than two years. The National Archives initially claimed and received 15 boxes taken by Trump’s teams during his move from the White House to Mar-a-Lago containing 184 confidential documents. Trump’s lawyers later handed over another 38 sensitive people after a court summons. And the FBI, suspecting there were others, found 103 others during a search, some marked “top secret.” According to the Washington Post, the most sensitive involved a foreign country’s nuclear defense capabilities. A total of 325 problematic “classified documents”. As President, Donald Trump certainly had the authority to declassify any document, but he appears to have failed to follow the required process — and his defense of declassification “by thought” does not convince legal experts.
Joe Biden’s teams conducted a scrutiny last year. In early November, they told the National Archives that sensitive documents from Biden’s vice presidency had been discovered in one of his former offices at the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Then, on December 20, the President’s attorneys found “a small number of potentially confidential documents” in the garage of the Wilmington home and notified the Justice Department. On January 11, these attorneys unearthed a confidential document, this time in the room next to the home’s garage. The next day, the Presidency Attorney found the five extra pages there. We don’t know the official figure, but according to CBS, we had about twenty documents, some “top secret,” prior to the last salvo, for a total of 26.
Legal risks: Biden protected while president, Trump threatens disability
A 1978 law requires American presidents and vice presidents to submit all their emails, letters, and other working documents to the National Archives at the end of their term. Joe Biden indicated he was unaware of the existence of those documents, and his attorneys asserted they had been “accidentally” postponed and would be cooperating with the Justice Department. This is a key point: “The Department of Justice (DOJ) rarely indicts” when a violation of the 1978 law was committed “accidentally and without hindrance,” according to Moss. Not to mention, the DOJ believes that an incumbent president cannot be impeached — however, he can be impeached retroactively to the end of his term.
Donald Trump no longer enjoys this protection. And the FBI search shows that before a special prosecutor was appointed, he was the target of an investigation for “willful” withholding classified documents. Apparently, the former president is accused of having these documents transported in his boxes voluntarily and of refusing to return them for 18 months. Theoretically, each charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison.
What is certain is that both of these investigations by independent prosecutors risk straining the 2024 presidential election when Donald Trump has already started and Joe Biden is mulling it over. Although technically, no charge or conviction can prevent a person from running for office.