Below is a slightly modified version of my NY Post column on the discovery of the second batch of classified documents in areas previously used by President Joe Biden. A number of questions remain unanswered by the perplexing response of President Biden that he will not even ask about the identity of these documents on advice of counsel. However, with the discovery of a second batch of classified documents at a different location, the President’s “surprise” could grow exponentially in the days to come. You might want to find a chair . . . the forthcoming spin from the press and pundits could produce global vertigo.
Here is the column:
There is an old story attributed to Noah Webster of being caught in a closet with a paramour. His wife cried out, “Noah! I am surprised!” Webster responded with a grammatical correction that “It is I who am surprised. You are astonished.”
The Webster story came to mind this week when President Joe Biden broke days of silence over the discovery of highly classified documents in a closet. Biden declared that he was “surprised” by the discovery but then said that his lawyers advised him not to ask (or presumably answer) other questions.
Biden was grammatically correct, if legally confused, in only describing his first reaction rather than his prior actions.
Biden was indeed surprised by the discovery. The rest of us should be astonished.
After all, it was Biden who expressed revulsion at the very thought of his predecessor possessing classified documents at Mar-a-Lago: “How that could possibly happen, how one anyone could be that irresponsible.”
Biden is not the only one who appears hopelessly conflicted. With the reported discovery of a second batch of highly classified documents connected to President Biden, the decisions of Attorney General Merrick Garland are fast moving from the inexplicable to incomprehensible.
Garland was presumably briefed that classified documents were discovered in Joe Biden’s old office on Nov. 2. He also presumably knew about the Biden documents when he appointed a special counsel to investigate the classified documents at Mar-a-Lago 16 days later.
At the time of the appointment of Jack Smith, some of us noted the inexplicable refusal of Garland to appoint a special counsel to look into alleged Biden influence peddling and other crimes.
Garland continued to refuse an appointment for Biden even as he justified the appointment for Trump on the basis that Trump was running for the presidency. Joe Biden is the president. What is the difference?
President Biden, meanwhile, is feigning ignorance, simply saying he was “surprised” the documents were there.
By not discussing the content of the documents, Biden minimizes his vulnerability to charges of obstruction or false statements. He can simply declare “surprise,” knowing that many in the media will welcome his silence as they spin the scandal.
Despite the lack of information, the press and pundits have already declared there is no real national security danger and certainly no comparison to Mar-a-Lago. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, declared “There is no comparison. They were in a locked closet. They were not accessible.”
So that is the standard? A locked closet? The Mar-a-Lago storage room was locked and later the security was enhanced at the request of the FBI.
It is fair to note that Trump and his staff are accused of false statements and obstruction. However, that does not change the same alleged crime of unlawful removal and possession.
Biden is taking a page from the Hillary Clinton playbook. Recall the long-sought Whitewater documents. After the case was effectively over, they suddenly appeared. The New York Times called the documents “elusive,” as if they moved by free will.
Clinton was also “surprised” by the discovery of the documents . . . after they could not be used as part of the earlier investigation.
There are some obvious explanations for the documents being present in the office, particularly given Biden’s work on a book that discussed his work in some of the referenced countries like Ukraine. However, even that explanation raises more questions. For example, Biden left office as vice president in 2017 and had an office at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia after finishing his term until 2019. On February 8, 2018, the Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement says that it opened its doors in Washington, D.C.
So if these documents were removed when Biden left office, where were they in the prior year and were they moved repeatedly before they ended up in the Washington office? This does not appear a “one-and-done” mistake. Rather documents may have been at various locations over a five year period.
Otherwise, Biden would have had to request and receive classified information at some point in the five years outside of a secure location.
Now that we have a second batch of documents, there is an increasing concern that classified documents were distributed or divided among different offices. This also means that an even greater array of individuals may have had access to such documents at different locations over the five-year period.
None of this could be clarified with Biden simply expressing “surprise.”
The FBI has two immediate tasks: secure the highly classified documents and then determine whether they may have been compromised.
Consider that Biden did not categorically deny asking for the documents to be taken at the end of this term as vice president.
He also did not explain when he was briefed after they were found.
Democrats and the media are eager to wave this away and move on. But, as the statements of Garland and Biden show, there are many questions that need answering. The discovery of new classified documents only magnifies those unanswered questions.
That is why we were not “surprised” but we can all be legitimately (and grammatically) astonished by the discoveries in Joe Biden’s closet — and his silence about the contents.
Jonathan Turley is an attorney and professor at George Washington University Law School.