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The Classified Documents Drama Won’t End Joe Biden’s Presidency

Joe Biden
US President Joe Biden. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Transparency is Joe Biden’s Best Answer to the Classified Documents Scandal: U.S. President Joseph Biden has stumbled into an awkward scandal with parallels to the one surrounding former President Donald Trump.

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Like Trump, Biden appears to have retained classified material away from appropriate and secure locations. Enough material has been found that Attorney General Merrick Garland felt compelled to appoint a special counsel to investigate.

There are two parallels here. First, Trump, too, is enmeshed in such a scandal. This will make it hard for the Democrats to use Trump’s misbehavior as a political issue in the election. Trump’s behavior in his investigation has been far worse, though. Donald Trump obstructed the documents’ return so much, that the government was forced to seek a warrant to search his Mar-a-Lago home. Biden has so far been more open and forthcoming.

The second parallel is to the 2016 presidential election, where Republicans successfully used Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s lax email security against her. That scandal dragged on for months and then years, with a constant drip-drip of stories in the paper.

Goaded by right-wing media, particularly Fox News, it emerged as the major opposition narrative of the Clinton campaign during the race.

When the FBI re-opened its Clinton email investigations in October 2016, that almost certainly threw the election to Trump. Team Biden will certainly want to put this story behind them to avoid a repeat of that election arc next year.

Transparency is Joe Biden’s Best Option

A famous lesson from the impeachment of former President Richard Nixon over Watergate is that he fell because of the cover-up, not the crime itself.

That is, the burglary of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate Hotel was likely not an impeachable crime. Nixon probably ordered the break-in, but he could have obfuscated that while apologizing for a campaign out of control.

Although risky, this would have been a better alternative to all the further crimes committed during the ensuing White House cover-up. Watergate eventually took over Nixon’s government, and he was forced out of office because of it.

Trump too has chosen the obfuscation and delay alternative. He has fought the entire process. He has attacked the search of his home as a politically motivated raid. He has leaned on Congressional allies to defend him, and he likely declared his run for the presidency so early in order to forestall that investigation.

Biden would be wise to avoid this route. Modern democracies have robust media, press freedom, and a culture of leaking which makes government secrecy of inappropriate behavior very difficult to hide. And this is a good thing! The Founding Fathers included press freedom to insure clean government, and journalistic investigation of the Trump and Nixon White Houses has been critical to unveiling their abuses.

Biden almost certainly does not want to lumped in with Trump and Nixon, and it will almost certainly be impossible to hide the wayward document details anyway. So Biden should simply tell the truth and get it behind him before the 2024 election heats.

Overclassification is the Other Lesson from Both Stories

The larger lesson from both the Trump and Biden scandals is the relentless urge to classify material despite the America’s democracy commitment to open government. This problem has been well-documented in the national security sector (here, here, here). We do not know whether the documents Trump and Biden retained deserved the classificatory status.

By definition, as classified documents, we will not see them. But there is a reasonable chance in both instances that some of the material was not that critical. The relevant stamping should have warned both presidents and their staff. But it is also possible that either simply made an error and did not realize what they had amid the huge torrent of classified material the government produces. We must wait for the investigatory reports to inform us.

That said, the general bias in democracies should be toward transparency. Classification should not be used to cover-up embarrassing information. We already know this is a problem with police departments which refuse to release incriminating body camera footage. Self-government requires understanding what our elected officials do, and we should only classify material with direct national security impacts. And in time, almost everything should be declassified so that historians can properly write the history of our polity.

Even America’s political class, which benefits most from over-classification recognizes this is a problem. In 2010, it passed a ‘Reducing Over-Classification Act’ to grapple with this problem.

Biden and Trump will both be tarred by this scandal. So far, Biden seems to be handling it far less defensively, if only because he learned from Trump’s failed effort to derail his investigation. This is smart. But the larger background story for both scandals is the need to de-classify more and prevent the rise of secret government.

Expert Biography: Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University and 19FortyFive Contributing Editor.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 



  1. bill

    January 15, 2023 at 7:35 pm

    one big difference, Trump was President and as such allowed to have docs. Biden was vice and possessed them illegally

  2. Jim

    January 15, 2023 at 9:03 pm

    No, it won’t end his presidency.

    But it headlines a cascading train of investigation & oversight in the House of Representatives.

    Should Republicans conduct vigorous investigations in the course of their constitutional duty of oversight… it will make it hard for Joe Biden to run for re-election.

    People ask, how did this come up now? What happened?

    There are a lot of questions about the Biden administration and its actions.

    Questions that were never asked before his election… and many more since then.


    Can the Biden administrations survive it… can Joe Biden?

    I think the jury is still out on that one.

  3. 404NotFound

    January 15, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    Secret documents belonging to uncle Sam are all controlled by the deep state or the shadow agency or blob, that is, the MIC and the american military & intelligence community which together as one entity controlling all life in US.

    That entity today wants to control not only the US, but also the entire world.

    Thus, Biden didn’t worry no nothing about some secret documents that seemingly (over the past few months) have appeared in his garage and office from nowhere.

    The MIB know better than to hurt their frontman or puppet.

    Soon, Biden and democrat party could begin to declare a state of emergency with a series of colored codes dictating what the US public can and cannot do. Like what the George w bush administration accomplished in 2001.

    First a code red, followed by a code orange, then back to red. Depending on the assumed danger or imaginary threat of the day confronting Washington for the pertinent hour.

    The democrat party is just one wing of the war party that rules Washington’s Pennsylvania avenue and wall street. And they report to the deep state which is the MIC & military plus intelligence community of our modern day Babylon.

  4. Jim Jenson

    January 15, 2023 at 11:10 pm

    Bizarre. The left is criticizing their own? The only explanation is the permanent unelected government wants a different candidate for 24 and ole joe was being stubborn. So they will pull out the trump playbook. Why have elections if the IC decides everything?

  5. GhostTomahawk

    January 16, 2023 at 12:07 am

    The cover-up is worse than the crime.

    You want transparency? Why the Foxtrot Uniform Charlie Kilo was the VP taking home top secret compartment Intel again? Let’s see him answer that. VP not the PRESIDENT. What were these documents he was hiding with pictures and other what nots next to the “Vette”? This doesn’t just stink of a cover-up. IT LOOKS LIKE ONE TOO. All the places where he was involved he seemed to be taking stuff home from. Why would his attorneys be telling him to not ask? Plausible deniability for a geriatric who may not remember the documents maybe?

    Transparency… yeah. Ok. We will start seeing a limited scope Special Council do the Patomac Two Step to cover Joe Bidens egress from the Oval Office so Kamala Harris can pardon him.

  6. dave

    January 16, 2023 at 12:26 am

    Trump was a PRESIDENT who declassified the material. Joe was not!

  7. Him

    January 16, 2023 at 4:31 am

    Leftist writers never mention that a President has the right to de-classify any document.

    A Vice-President does not have that right.

    Why do Leftist Democrat writers never mention that?

  8. Jim Higgins

    January 16, 2023 at 9:28 am

    This will end the Alzheimer’s riddled Presidency of the poorest excuse for an American President in the history of our nation.

    If he doesn’t resign then he can be removed via the 25th Amendment to end his crooked presidency.

  9. Jim

    January 16, 2023 at 10:31 am

    Obama foreshadowed this when he stated:

    “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to ‘F’ things up.”

    Joe Biden running true to form.

    Chickens coming home to roost.

  10. Jeff

    January 16, 2023 at 7:29 pm

    This is a deep state operation to green light Michelle Obama’s run for the presidency. Why bother to hold the election? We already know the outcome. America is circling the drain and we must do something to stop the communist takeover.

  11. Omega 13

    January 18, 2023 at 2:59 pm

    What will this end, Bob? Biden’s re-election plans.

    Here comes Goblin Nuisance to save the day. lol

    Bend over!

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