When classified government documents were found at Mar-a-Lago after an FBI raid last summer, Spirited Reasoners were not surprised. After all, the documents had been subpoenaed, a judge had ordered them to be delivered, and Donald Trump had thumbed his nose at the judicial process. Depending on the interview, his responses evolved along the following self-contradictory lines: (1) I’m still the President, so I have a right to keep them; (2) I declassified them all before I left the White House; (3) they are my own personal papers and are therefore not subject to a government search; and (4) they aren’t my documents—the FBI planted them in my office during the raid.
None of this surprised us because it was all consistent with the manner in which Donald Trump occupied the Presidency. Everything was (and still is) his. (“L’Etat, c’est moi.”)
Nor was the timing of the Mar-a-Lago raid particularly strange, given the fact that it came after repeated attempts by Justice Department lawyers to retrieve the documents.
Which brings us to the case of the Biden documents.
How can Spirited Reasoners possibly explain the sudden discovery, in late 2022, of several dozen classified documents, all of which date back to the Obama Administration, in one or more office and/or residential locations controlled by Joe Biden? The point here is not that the documents were discovered. The point is that they were NOT discovered until late in the year 2022, at least five years after Mr. Biden left his office as Vice President. Following is the Spirited Reasoner’s best speculative effort at explaining this unusual timing:
Perhaps, after Vice President Biden left that office in January of 2017, the documents were simply forgotten about. (Which is not okay. I’ll get to that in a second.) As various campaign aides and other associates populated his home and offices for various reasons during the Trump years, no one really cared about these old documents, since the minds and efforts of the workers were focused in other directions, especially fund-raising and other campaign activities in 2018 and 2019 leading up to the 2020 election.
But then, with all of the publicity surrounding the discovery of the Mar-a-Lago documents by the FBI, someone—perhaps a single aide—became worried about the documents he or she remembered seeing at one of the Biden properties. Perhaps that person had seen the documents during that 2018-19 time frame. When this aide, now elevated to the ranks of government official, reported the matter up the chain of command, a senior-level attorney got wind of the information and realized the importance. At which point, steps were taken to secure the documents and return them all to government archives (or other classified locations) as required by law.
We can imagine numerous variations on this theme. For example, it’s quite possible that Biden officials, despite knowing about the discovery, dragged their feet for several weeks given the timing of the midterm elections. But regardless of how the documents were discovered and why they were not returned sooner, the fact remains that their handling was sloppy and negligent at best.
Given the choice between a leader aiming to become dictator versus one who is sloppy and negligent, I’ll choose the latter. But I confess that it would be nice if we had leaders who treated our national security as a topic more important than the invitation list to a fundraising dinner.