Biden and Trump's Perverse Codependency
Mishandled classified documents in the president's possession may relieve the former president of some legal and political troubles.
This week we learned that back in November, classified government documents from the Obama era were found in a private office belonging to President Joe Biden. They were discovered by one of Biden’s personal attorneys, among lots of other documents, in a locked closet at the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. The center is a think tank that Biden set up following his tenure as Vice President. According to reports, the attorney and Biden’s team quickly informed the National Archives of what was found, and turned over the documents.
Biden claims he didn’t know about the material, and it’s possible he’s telling the truth. As of yet, it’s not clear how the documents got there, in connection with his activities at Penn. Someone obviously did something improper, and an investigation is underway that should get to the bottom of it.
This revelation comes at a time when former President Donald Trump is under federal investigation for his own mishandling of classified documents. While there are certainly similarities between the situations, there are also stark differences — differences that have, over the past few days, been highlighted by Trump’s critics and dismissed by his defenders. Regardless of one’s political inclinations, they’re worth noting:
In Biden’s case, about 10 classified documents were found. In Trump’s, there were hundreds.
It was Trump himself who ordered that the documents in his possession be moved to Mar-a-Lago. We don’t know what direct role Biden played, if any, in getting the ones in his possession to Penn.
Biden’s team quickly went through the proper process upon discovering the documents, and turned them over to the National Archives. Trump and his people played games with the National Archives for a year and a half, the lack of cooperation ultimately leading to an FBI search of Mar-a-Lago to retrieve the documents. And according to reports, there is still missing classified material believed to be in Trump’s possession.
Still, the predicament Biden is in shouldn’t be shrugged off. The mishandling of classified information is a very big deal. It poses potential threats to our national security, intelligence sources, and relationships with other countries. And being that there are lots of government processes in place to keep this type of thing from happening in the first place, the fact that those processes were bypassed in this instance suggests intent or over-the-top negligence.
Politically, this feels like as an enormous gift to Donald Trump. Yes, the situations are notably different, but they’re not different enough to escape the impulse of whataboutism, even among a lot of people who aren’t hardened Trump supporters. From a broad view, these violations feel like they’re at least in the same ballpark.
That probably also helps Trump legally. Regardless of the amount of evidence discovered during the Trump investigation (and what we already know is pretty damning), the odds of the DOJ charging the former president with a crime have likely been dramatically reduced. The decision to indict will ultimately be a judgement call, as it was a few years back when Hillary Clinton was effectively let off the hook for mishandling classified information.
Political optics shouldn’t play a role in such serious legal matters, but we all know they do. The DOJ may well decide that charging Trump, after not charging Clinton and presumably not charging Biden (unless something of comparative significance is discovered), would result in too huge of a public backlash. It was already going to be a difficult situation in this respect (especially with Trump already announcing his 2024 candidacy), but the Biden factor would only bolster charges of political bias and political weaponization within our federal law enforcement agencies.
In other words, this Biden blunder (if that’s what it is) may have well handed Trump a “get out of jail free” card.
This is just the latest example of the codependent relationship Biden and Trump have forged in recent years. The two have sadly come to rely on each other for their own political fortunes.
Not being Trump, and the promise of a return to political normalcy, is why an individual as feeble and unimpressive as Joe Biden became our president. Trump is why Biden’s party captured and still controls the U.S. Senate, and why Democrats fared much better in the midterms than anyone expected. Biden’s prior victory over Trump (the GOP’s likely 2024 nominee) is the unpopular and mentally-diminished 80-year-old’s most serious argument for running for re-election. But for many that’s enough, and our president owes it all to The Donald.
Likewise, Trump is reliant on Biden, most directly in the former president’s continued false claims that he never lost the 2020 election. Biden is illegitimate, so says Trump, and thus millions of his loyalists continue to believe it. Beyond tribal considerations, Biden’s propensity to toss out demonstrably false, too often vitriolic, and frequently incoherent statements has arguably done more to normalize Trump’s boilerplate rhetoric than it has to normalize our politics. That factor is not much different than the dueling classified-documents issue.
Add in serious problems like continuing high inflation, the worsening situation in Afghanistan, and an out-of-control southern border (all either created or needlessly exacerbated by Biden), and you’ve already got people rationalizing their same “binary choice” methodology from two years ago (despite what we saw from Trump after the last election).
The predisposition of these two grossly ill-equipped (and I would argue unfit) politicians to normalize the abnormal, and bail each other out of their self-created problems (at the top levels of our federal government, no less) is made possible by breathtaking party weakness and crippling personal ego… neither of which are worth defending.
If each is these individuals is the other’s greatest asset, and their own deepest liability, it’s time to shred the financials. Biden may need Trump, and Trump may need Biden, but the rest of us don’t need either of them.
Let’s keep that in mind as 2024 approaches.