Biden and Trump: How the investigations into two classified documents came to different ends

This image, included in special counsel Robert Hur's report, shows the box in which classified Afghanistan documents were found in President Joe Biden's garage in Wilmington, Del., during an FBI search on Dec. 13.  21, 2022. (Ministry of Justice via AP)

(Uncredited / Associated Press)

Biden and Trump: How the investigations into two classified documents came to different ends

ALANNA DURKIN RICHER

February 10, 2024

Secret documents have been found in a damaged cardboard box in the President’s Office

Joe

Biden’s cluttered garage in Delaware, near where golf clubs hung on the wall. A photo of the former president

Donald

Trump’s indictment, meanwhile, shows stacks of boxes filled with documents under a chandelier in an ornate Mar-a-Lago bathroom.

In Biden’s case, special counsel Robert Hur, a former U.S. attorney for Maryland nominated by Trump, concluded in a report released Thursday that the president should not face criminal charges despite finding evidence that Biden deliberately withheld classified information.

Trump, on the other hand, will stand trial on charges that he hoarded classified documents at his Florida estate and thwarted government efforts to get them back.

Trump, who has denied any wrongdoing in the case brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith, denounced the decision not to indict Biden, saying: THIS IS A TWO-LEVEL JUSTICE SYSTEM!

Biden angrily lashed out at Hur late Thursday for the report’s unflattering characterizations of his memory, saying he never shared classified information.

a

T

look at the similarities and differences between the Biden and Trump investigations:

What kind of documents are we talking about?

Biden: FBI agents found classified documents on Afghanistan in Biden’s Delaware garage in 2022, along with drafts of a handwritten memo Biden sent to the president

Barracks

Obama must convince Obama not to send more troops into the country, Hur’s report said.

In an office and basement in the Delaware home, agents also found notebooks containing classified information that Biden wrote during briefings with Obama and during meetings in the White House Situation Room, the report said.

Investigators said the notebooks contained national security and foreign policy information related to “sensitive intelligence sources and methods.” Hur found that Biden read almost verbatim from classified portions of his notebooks at least three times during interviews with his ghostwriter.

Trump: Prosecutors have alleged that Trump kept hundreds of classified documents in boxes as he packed to leave the White House in 2021. After a lawyer for Trump told the FBI there were no classified documents left at Mar-a-Lago, the FBI searched the property in August 2022 and found more than 100 documents with classified markings, according to his indictment.

Each of the 32 counts of intentional retention of national defense information that Trump is accused of involves a specific classified document found at Mar-a-Lago that is marked SECRET or TOP SECRET. Topics covered in the documents include details about U.S. nuclear weapons and a foreign country’s nuclear capabilities.

Why hasn’t Hur sued Biden?

Hur concluded that there is not enough evidence to convict Biden of voluntarily withholding the Afghan documents or the notebooks.

When the Afghan documents were found in the garage in 2022, Biden was allowed to have them because he was president at the time, the report said. To file charges, Hur said prosecutors would have to rely on a comment Biden made to his ghostwriter in 2017 when Biden was a private citizen living in Virginia and found just below “classified documents.”

But Hur said Biden was able to convince some jurors that his actions were inappropriate, arguing, for example, that he forgot about the documents shortly after finding them in 2017. It’s also possible that the documents from Afghanistan were never in Virginia’s house at all, but they

accidentally accidentally

held in Delaware without Biden’s knowledge since he was vice president, Hur concluded.

Hur also cited limitations on Biden’s memory and the president’s cooperation with investigators that could convince some jurors he made an innocent mistake. The report described the president as someone about whom jurors want to find reasonable doubts.

Column: Biden’s memory is failing. That’s Trump. The question is whose mistakes are more dangerous

We also took into account that Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury at trial, as he did during our interview with him, as a likable, well-meaning older man with a poor memory, the report said. It would be difficult to convince a jury that by then they should convict him, a former president well into his eighties, of a serious crime requiring a mental state of willfulness.

Regarding the notebooks containing classified information, Hur concluded that Biden could plausibly argue that if a trial were to take place, he believed the notebooks were his personal property and that he could take them home.

“During our interview with him, Mr. Biden was emphatic, stating that his notebooks are my property and that every president before me has done exactly the same thing, keeping handwritten classified documents after leaving office,” the report said.

Other classified documents found at the Penn Biden Center, Biden’s Delaware home and among Senate papers at the University of Delaware “could plausibly have been taken to these locations by accident,” Hur concluded.

What have prosecutors said in Trump’s case?

Trump is accused of not only hoarding classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, but also trying to hide them from investigators and trying to prevent the government from reclaiming them.

Prosecutors have alleged that Trump showed the documents to people who did not have security clearances to view them and enlisted others to help him hide the data requested by authorities.

Hur’s report says the differences between the two cases are clear. Unlike Biden, who cooperated with investigators, agreed to search his homes and attended a voluntary interview, the allegations in Trump’s case constitute “serious aggravating facts,” Hur wrote.

Notably, after being given multiple opportunities to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump reportedly did the opposite, the report said.

For example, prosecutors say that after the Justice Department issued a subpoena for the records in May 2022, Trump asked his own lawyers if he could defy the request, saying words to the effect: I don’t want anyone looking through my boxes .

Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we have nothing here? one of his attorneys described him, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors allege that during the July 2021 meeting in Bedminster,

his golf club in New Jersey,

Trump also waved the secret attack plan to his guests. This is classified information, he said, according to a recording that prosecutors cited, claiming that as president I could have released it but didn’t.

Prosecutors have also accused Trump of plotting with his valet, Walt Nauta, and a Mar-a-Lago property manager, Carlos De Oliveira, to hide the security camera.

video footage

from investigators after issuing a subpoena.

Video from the property would ultimately play a key role in the investigation because, prosecutors said, it captured Nauta moving boxes of documents in and out of a storage facility, including a day before an FBI visit to the property. The boxes were moved toward Trump, the complaint alleges.

____Richer reported from Boston.

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