Analysis: Biden's mishandling of documents scandal a rookie mistake
The additional location of documents harms Biden administration’s credibility on matters of national security and transparency
U.S. President Joe Biden is often derided for his gaffes, his awkwardness, and his stumbles - both verbally and off bicycles. But, those who have underestimated his ability as a tactical politician have done so at their own peril.
The experts said his 2020 presidential campaign was dead in the water, until it wasn’t. Once assuming office, a thin majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate was supposed to spell difficulty advancing any kind of an agenda beyond executive orders. Instead, Biden steered one landmark piece of legislation after another through Congress.
He has largely avoided scandals in his presidency - at least any that have stuck. And that makes his administration’s coverup of the finding of classified documents in his former non-Washington office all the more stunning.
This is an administration comprised of seasoned political veterans, and it is far from the first time they’ve been through a situation that, if revealed, could bring harm to their officeholder or candidate.
As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” But, that’s exactly what Biden and his administration did.
Once the existence of those classified documents in Biden’s former office became known to them in the days before the November midterm elections, the administration turned over the documents to the proper authorities, but kept the information with a small circle of close advisers.
Not wanting to potentially damage themselves on Election Day, or suck the energy out of the subsequent successful results, the White House could have created a compare-and-contrast moment. Keep things quiet while politically inexpedient, but launch a full sweep, overseen by attorneys, of any and all Biden residences, current and former offices, and any other place where government documents of any kind may have found a home.
Then, at a time of their choosing - on a Friday afternoon, after the midterm thrill had settled down - they could have sent out a statement: "We found out about the existence of these papers, and unlike the other guy who was asked for the documents he took with him, but held on to them, refused to give them back, claimed them as his own, claimed he declassified them, lied about giving them back and needed to have his house raided, we were the adults here. We contacted the authorities and did everything in our power, through a time-consuming, meticulous sweep of all Biden properties, and following all relevant laws, to assure there are no more compromising materials out there."
It could have been the definition of not letting a crisis go to waste. Instead, the Biden White House did something atypical: It committed a completely unforced error that will have long-lasting consequences, beyond the cable news outrage du jour. And it let a situation that it could have created a narrative about on its own terms turn into a scandal in which it is completely on the defensive.
The additional location of documents - all coming after the original story was made public by others - has harmed the administration’s credibility on matters of national security and on transparency. It has damaged the Justice Department’s efforts in potentially prosecuting former president Donald Trump for his own handling of classified information.
Beyond all that, this was a rookie mistake by administration powers that knew better. With inflation trending downward, with Ukraine holding its own backed by a Biden-built alliance, and with a Republican House that may eat itself alive, the Biden administration now - and rightfully - is being bombarded with questions about who knew what and when.
There may not have been a crime, but there was a cover-up. And as this White House should have learned from the guy they love to trash, it is the cover-up that always comes back to you.