Classified Documents: Joe Biden, Mike Pence and Donald Trump

Open notebook and magnifying glass on wooden table

Open notebook and magnifying glass on wooden table by stefygutovska from Noun Project (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

By Shawn Batchelor

There is quite a hullabaloo about the classified documents case with former President Donald Trump (DJT), former Vice President Mike Pence (MP) and President Joe Biden (JB). Common defense I see/hear is they all took classified documents, why is DJT getting prosecuted while MP and JB are not? Well, having worked around classified documents, I can tell you there is a big difference between the actions of DJT and the latter two.

The major difference is intent, in my opinion, and the law seems to support that. I like to compare it to robbing a bank. There is a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ statute for bank robbery. It’s NO, don’t do it. If you rob a bank and give the money back, the law still says NO, you shouldn’t have robbed it in the first place. Conversely, the governing clause under the espionage act is about ‘intent’ and not simply a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ concept. I believe it takes into account the human factor.

When I say human factor, I mean the fact that, as humans, we often make mistakes – even when working with classified documents. Sure, in a perfect world, we would all be infallible and never misplace, mislabel, or even mistakenly take home documents of national security. We, however, are not infallible beings, and it absolutely does happen. People mishandle classified document all the time – unintentionally. The statute takes into account accountability. If one does find him/herself in violation, most people with honest intent typically disclose or self-report, figure out the extent of the breach, contain it, correct their mistakes and then move on with their daily tasking. This obviously and provably was not the case with DJT.

While MP and JB readily and willingly turned over the documents when requested, DJT didn’t. This is where the intent comes into play. When you hide it, your intent becomes inherently questionable, and will most likely be perceived to be nefarious, so the situations are wildly different. The difference is two parties giving it back as soon as they found out they had them, while the third not only held on to them, but lied and obstructed the government from taking back and protecting its secrets. Again, wildly different!

Too often we want to just hold our own opinions without being objective enough to capture all the necessary input to form a proper opinion. That’s called bias, and when it comes to protecting national security and the safety of the American public, there can be no bias. Public safety comes first – at all costs.

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