Withholding classified documents– when will it ever end?

On Thursday, Jan.12, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland announced the appointing of a special counsel, former U.S. attorney Robert Hur, to review the storage of sensitive documents discovered in spaces used by President Joe Biden during the years preceding his return to the White House.

Regarding government secrets and classified documents, the U.S. has had its fair share of leaks and scandals regarding national matters. A prime example is the famous Pentagon papers leaked by journalist Daniel Ellsberg and published by the New York Times and the Washington Post.

However, in the past couple of years, the issue has gotten worse, with former president Donald Trump withholding classified documents and documents found in current president Joe Biden and former vice president Mike Pence’s homes; these revelations have thrust the issue of proper handling of documents into the middle of political discourse and laid bare an uncomfortable fact: policies that are meant to control the handling of the nation’s secrets by top officials are haphazardly enforced among and rely almost entirely on good faith.

What is shocking is that classified documents have been found on four different accounts at private addresses of Biden’s since November. Those locations include a private office in Washington, D.C., Penn Biden Center, his think tank office, and Wilmington, Delaware, his home. 

Why is this important? The entire purpose of classification is to protect sensitive information. The higher the classification is, the more a piece of information endangers national security. Classification constitutes a “state secret” and grants different levels of protection based on the expected damage caused by the leakage of such information. When such sensitive information is found on private property, such info can easily be leaked to the public, which could endanger national security. Even worse, after a high official leaves office, they could threaten the government with said classified documents, as depicted in former president Donald Trump’s scandal.

The scandal involved an FBI raid of former president Trump’s home resort Mar-A-Lago, and the results were very alarming. During their raid, FBI agents found four dozen empty document folders marked “CLASSIFIED” and empty folders labeled “Return to Staff Secretary/Military Aide.” This raised the concern that the United States Department of Justice has not recovered the documents that should have been in those folders. This is problematic because it shows that Trump may have violated the law. After all, by law, such records must be turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration after the president leaves office. 

The National Archives and Records Administration is an independent federal agency of the U.S. government in the executive branch tasked with preserving and documenting government and historical records.

This had been a massive problem for many decades, stretching from president to staff and across multiple administrations going as far back as Jimmy Carter. Classified documents were even found at former vice president Mike Pence’s Indiana home last week, sparking a roar of disappointment at the poorly executed archive process of the white house. Pence asked his lawyer, with experience handling classified material, to search for his home out of an abundance of caution due to the recent controversy surrounding President Biden about the documents. Sources said that the attorney, Matt Morgan, began going through four boxes stored at Pence’s house last week, finding several documents with classified markings. The National Archives were immediately alerted, and in turn, the Archives informed the Justice Department. Now both president Biden and Pence claim that they do not know how the documents got there, implying it was due to a mistake. However, this went against what Mike Pence said a couple of months back, and that is, during an interview with ABC News, he clearly stated that he did not take any classified documents home and saw no reason for anyone to do so. In another interview with Fox Business, Pence said, “More often than not, I would return the classified documents to the folders I had received them in, same with materials obtained from the white house.

In both interviews, he speaks with certainty, claiming, “[It is] not me, [it] didn’t happen, not in an unprotected place. He had a process, yet classified documents were found in a sealed box at Pence’s home, in an unprotected place.”

The Department of Justice is in contact with former Vice President Mike Pence’s lawyers about scheduling a potential search of his home in Indiana, just like President Biden’s house was recently searched. Fortunately, no classified documents were found this time, and with the full cooperation of president Biden and Pence, the Department of Justice is confident that they will sort out this case.

The one difference that has set apart the three cases between Trump, Biden, and Pence is that president Biden and Pence are cooperating with the Department of Justice, unlike Trump, who has tried to withhold classified documents. With that being said, the National Archives have also asked past presidents and vice presidents to look for classified items, including former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, and former presidents Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and Dan Quayle.

There is no question about this:  our current system is not working. Multiple sources of people working in the archives stated that this is another example of how the current system is failing and how they need to review record management, classified material management, and make another system. It is now more than necessary to do this; with America globally linked to world affairs worldwide, another repeat of the Pentagon leaks would be a considerable problem, endangering the nation’s well-being and security.


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