Classified Information and Republican Obstructionism
Mike Pence joins the "I kept classified documents in my basement"-crowd. What does that mean and how will it influence right-wing politics?
Mike Pence joins the club of keepers of classified documents in their basement/garage/office. He, like Biden - unlike Trump - informed the National Archives immediately, after the documents had been found. Who, I can only imagine, responded with “oh for fuck’s sake” - and actually sent out an email to all living former presidents begging them to please, please check under their beds and in the wine cellar if there’s any classified documents in their homes. Pence had previously claimed that he was confident that he wasn’t in possession of classified documents himself and had bemoaned an alleged double standard when it came to the investigation into Trump and Biden:
Apart from justified questions as to why the hell so many ex-(vice)-presidents kept classified documents after their time in office, this led to a truly revealing moment on Fox News’ “The Five”, with Jesse Watters, one of the hosts, voicing his disappointment about Pence’s confession:
WATTERS: I mean, Pence, seriously. We have this great thing going with Joe ...
GUTFELD: Yeah, and he just ruined it!
PIRRO: He did!
WATTERS: Come on, man!
GUTFELD: Now what are we gonna do?
Watters openly bemoaned Pence not just destroying the classified documents (which would have been a criminal offense, by the way) - because now, of course, right-wingers can’t hammer home on Biden like they have been, without being accused of at the very least a double standard:
WATTERS: “I mean, he could’ve just destroyed it. We never would’ve known”
GUTFELD: “And we have to be fair and balanced and show both sides”
Honestly, I’m not sure what’s going on - if everyone is overcompensating for Hillary’s “but her emails” nightmare was to just keep paper copies of classified documents (which Clinton never did on her private e mail server, btw). On a more serious note: it has been argued by some for a while that over-classification of documents is a problem in government, as for example the Brennan Centre for Justice has argued in 2016. At this point, I’m not sure that this classified-document saga will play any role in the 2024 election. However, it is an irony of history that Trump has done a 180 on his position re: Mike Pence’s hanging (for not committing a crime) and rushed to his defense now that he might have possibly committed one. Trump commented on the issue on Truth Social:
“Mike Pence is an innocent man. He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!”
Why is Trump suddenly defending Pence, after he hung him out to - well, be hung by his own supporters during the insurrection? My guess: It is beneficial to Trump to peddle the conspiracy about the, as he calls it, “two sets of justice” when it comes to him and Biden, and therefore muddling the facts - that there are actually significant differences between the cases of Trump and Biden, and now Pence as well. Trump kept the documents knowingly, in an insecure location, refused to turn them over to the National Archives, even after having been asked for them numerous times. He brought the FBI raid on himself - let’s be honest, had he just complied with the requests of the NA, this probably would not have been a news story.
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What is startling is the difference in how many mainstream media outlets commented on the Biden and the Pence investigations, although both cases seem fairly similar:
The Associated Press’ reporting on Pence’s document revelation largely accepted his explanation, casting it as evidence of major systemic problems in both the overclassification of documents and officials’ abilities to handle all of them. (Emphasis added.)
“While a very different case, the Pence development could bolster the arguments of Trump and Biden, who have sought to downplay the significance of the discoveries at their homes. The presence of secret documents at all three men’s residences further underscores the federal government’s unwieldy system for storing and protecting the millions of classified documents it produces every year.”
But in Biden’s case just two weeks ago, the AP said that Biden’s political future was now in “uncertain territory,” and that the story was “beginning to strain his claim to competence.” (For his part, Pence has also been trying to rehabilitate his political image, ahead of a potential run for office, but his future is not being called into question by his document retention practices.)
Some have said that these investigations are a massive disadvantage for Biden, and speculated that this could make it harder to attack Trump in 2024, should he become the Republican Presidential nominee. However, I still doubt that the Biden campaign - should he run in 2024 - would center their strategy on document mishandling, and rather focus on all of the other crimes he committed, like staging an insurrection, trying to get his VP and members of Congress killed for not wanting to commit a crime, tax fraud, shady business deals, and so much more. I honestly don’t think the document saga (as bad as it is!) is high on their attack list, simply because it sounds boring and people don’t tend to care about that sort of thing.
What surely has helped Trump is mainstream media outlets arguing that because Biden and Pence had classified documents in their possession as well, the Justice Department might decide not to pursue charges on Trump and indicate that he is off the hook legally.
In other news from Republicans: senator Tom Cotton has announced that he will block all Biden nominees for the executive branch, until he gets to see all Trump, Biden and Pence documents. Can he do that? Technically, no: In order for nominees to be appointed, only 50 votes are needed. What Cotton can do, though, is to put sand in the gears of government, and make that process painstakingly slow. Which is the entire point of his demand - because while Tom Cotton might be a horrible human being, he is not stupid: He of course knows, that the Biden government or Biden himself has no influence over what the special counsel investigating the mishandling of documents does or when and if he chooses to show those documents to Congress. So this is, once again, a classic bit of Republican obstructionism.