The Memo: Biden’s document woes deepen

Documents discovered at President Biden’s home and former office are now at the heart of a criminal investigation.

This fact alone underscores the speed and severity with which the president’s woes have deepened since the issue first came to light in a CBS News report on Monday.

On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Robert Hur, to look into the matter.

Garland said the appointment was “in the public interest.” He also asserted that his decision was made to bolster confidence in the Department of Justice.

It “underscores for the public the Department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law,” Garland said.

But Garland’s decision to appoint Hur also creates an extraordinary circumstance in which both a sitting president and his immediate predecessor are under criminal investigation for their handling of classified material.

Former President Trump is also, of course, the only major declared Republican candidate for the White House in 2024. Special counsel Jack Smith is looking into Trump’s conduct in a case that involves far more documents than Biden’s — and, from what is currently known, far more evidence of potential obstruction.

Those differences are important. But they are of cold political comfort to Democrats. Much of the political sting will now go out of critiques of Trump’s behavior, the matter reduced instead to its simplest summary that both men had classified documents in their possession when they shouldn’t have had them.

The White House, which already knew it was in for a tough time in keeping control of the political agenda once Republicans took over the House majority, now faces an instant blizzard of negative attention and hostile questions.

Incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) on Thursday reacted to the revelation of the second batch of documents by telling Fox News he had “a ton of questions” about the issue.

“Why did they wait to tell us?” Jordan wondered.

Jordan’s counterpart at the head of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) reacted to the appointment of the special counsel by releasing a statement which, in essence, said Garland’s move would make no difference to the probe Comer is planning.

The Kentucky Republican said his panel would probe behavior that he characterized as “President Biden’s mishandling of classified information and the Swamp’s efforts to hide this information from the American people.”

The House earlier this week also voted, along straight party lines, to create a committee focused upon the supposed “weaponization” of the federal government. Republicans could scarcely have imagined they would be given fresh ammunition so quickly.

Of course, the argument about double standards runs both ways. While Democrats and liberal media allies try to minimize the significance of the document finds pertaining to Biden, Republicans like Jordan have acquired a zeal on the topic that was notably lacking when it came to Trump and the documents discovered at Mar-a-Lago.

Indeed, efforts by the relevant authorities to retrieve documents from the former president’s Florida resort began at least as early as May 2021, were repeatedly frustrated, and culminated in a court-obtained search warrant and an FBI raid roughly 15 months later.

By contrast, the White House has emphasized that the recently-discovered Biden documents were promptly turned over to the National Archives. This has not been seriously disputed, nor has evidence emerged that casts doubt on that vital part of the story.

Still, that doesn’t get Biden out of the woods by any measure.

Over two successive press briefings on Wednesday and Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre has come under heavy pressure by reporters to explain more about the timeline of events.

The first batch of documents was discovered Nov. 2 — just six days before the midterm elections, in which Democrats did unexpectedly well. It seems clear that the prompt disclosure of this information would have resulted, at a minimum, in several bad news cycles for the president’s party at a crucial time.

Similarly, Garland’s Thursday statement alluded to a search of other premises following the discovery of the initial batch of documents, which yielded a second batch in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington home by December 20. But, confusingly, the Justice Department was apparently informed only on Thursday morning about an additional, one-page document also uncovered at the Wilmington address.

Biden has kept his comments about the matter sparse, saying that he was surprised that the documents had shown up and that he does not know what exactly they contain.

A Thursday statement from the president’s counsel, Richard Sauber, cast the whole matter as an innocent error, asserting: “We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake.”

Regardless, the president and his party are now at real risk of being bogged down in a damaging story that has no obvious end in sight.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.

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