Send in the Clowns: Biden's Mistakes Invite the GOP Circus
With all the outstanding questions about who packed up then-Vice President Joe Biden's files in the Obama administration's final days, who unpacked them and why documents with classified markings were unlawfully removed in the process, one fact is pretty well-established. Biden's testy response to a reporter's question about how such documents ended up next to his Corvette ("By the way, my Corvette is in a locked garage. OK? So it's not like it's sitting out in the street.") was God-awful. It may not have matched former President Donald Trump's idiocy about the COVID-19 pandemic ("Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous -- whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light"), but it was bad.
While it remains a stretch to imagine that the departing vice president personally packed his papers, there are plenty of legitimate questions. They are questions, of course, to which the Biden White House generally can't respond publicly, for reasons that are also legitimate. It knows that the media is demanding answers to what happened when, who knew it and what the classified documents said, and that not providing them quickly subjects the president to withering criticism. That's the way that works.
But White House personnel and Biden's lawyers aren't at all in a position even to know what those answers are, let alone to state them publicly. This is because there are individuals who worked in the vice president's office, or at Biden's Washington think tank or on his personal staff who have to be questioned -- and neither the White House nor Biden's own lawyers can interview them. From the outset the Justice Department and now a special counsel have been conducting an investigation, and no one can contact these people without risking being perceived as interfering with it.
And making statements that may later prove incomplete or inaccurate will generate its own political problems, if not legal ones. Remember the trouble Susan Rice got into with a Republican Congress when then-President Barack Obama's national security adviser repeated reports about the attacks on our consulate in Benghazi that turned out to be incorrect?
But this is Washington, after all, where being loudly irresponsible trumps being circumspect every time. It was hilarious to see congressional Republicans, who were silent as a graveyard when Trump removed over 300 classified documents to Mar-a-Lago, then stonewalled requests for their return, then disobeyed a grand jury subpoena and then had an attorney lie about the ongoing concealment of top-secret materials, decide that 20 classified documents found under Biden's control was a very big deal. When pressed to explain this flagrant hypocrisy, the cat doesn't only have their tongue. It has their larynx.
Last Friday the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Ohio Republican and Trump favorite Rep. Jim Jordan, demanded that Attorney General Merrick Garland turn over documents that Jordan knew could not be turned over while the investigation that he knew was ongoing was ongoing. Jordan was the Republicans' exemplary choice to head the Judiciary Committee since he isn't a lawyer and never even took the bar exam. He calls himself a lawyer "wannabe," which is just what you want to have running the Judiciary Committee. He did, however, vote to reject the electoral votes in the 2020 election, and blew off a subpoena issued by another congressional committee compelling him to answer questions under oath about the Jan. 6 coup d'etat.
Rep. James Comer, the incoming chair of the newly named Oversight and Accountability Committee, was understandably stumped when asked on Sunday why, if he was so "concerned" about the 20 classified documents found among Biden's papers, he pronounced the over 300 taken by Trump to Florida "not a priority." And Speaker Kevin ("It's about transparency!") McCarthy, who opposed an investigation into Trump's pilfering of classified material and obstruction of justice, demanded an investigation into Biden.
Here's where we stand: About the Biden document debacle we don't know much. About congressional Republicans we know all we need to.
Jeff Robbins, a former assistant United States attorney and United States delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, was chief counsel for the minority of the United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. An attorney specializing in the First Amendment, he is a longtime columnist for the Boston Herald, writing on politics, national security, human rights and the Mideast.
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