A handful of classified federal government documents wrongly ending up in a former vice president’s private residence back in his home state is serious, and whether it’s Mike Pence or Joe Biden (or even Dick Cheney or John Adams), it must be thoroughly investigated to determine the reason for the misplacement and risk of national security secrets, such as identities of undercover agents, being exposed.
But let us say that Pence and his attorneys are handling this breach with a great deal more care and professionalism than Donald Trump and his attorneys dealt with a situation far more fraught. Pence’s aides have turned the records over to the FBI, just as Biden’s people voluntarily handed the small number of discovered files over to the feds when they found them. By all accounts, both former veeps took what they shouldn’t have taken by mistake.
Trump carted off reams of files to his Mar-a-Lago estate on purpose. Those included roughly 300 documents with classified markings at his residence, including some at the top-secret level. And recovering them was like pulling teeth. Repeated requests by the National Archives to turn them over were met with stalling, resistance and incomplete production — obstruction is another name for it — until finally the FBI felt it had no choice but to send in agents to take the files back.
The former president’s motive, both in the initial taking of the files and in the refusal to return them, is crucial in determining whether any potential crime was committed.
Moreover, in Trump’s case, media reports have revealed that at least some of the files relate to an unidentified foreign nation’s nuclear and military capabilities, potentially incendiary stuff indeed. With neither Biden nor Pence has anyone suggested the inclusion of such volatile information.
No public official should be careless in their custody of the nation’s secrets. But based on the limited picture we now have, Biden and Pence seem to have made reasonably minor mistakes. Trump’s violations, as usual, are of a different order of magnitude.