Classified Documents Found at Trump, Biden, and Pence Residences

What happened, and what are the implications for national security?


RestrictedData from Washington, DC, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Finding controversial classified documents in the possession of former and current White House executives has been a recurring event in recent months with former President Trump, President Biden, and now former Vice President Pence all under scrutiny for their handling of sensitive material. While all the events are very serious, Biden and Pence’s cooperation and possession of a relatively small number of documents starkly contrast with Trump’s denial of fault as well as his having hundreds of documents.
Former President Donald Trump’s controversy began last year when the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) found over 100 missing classified documents that were suspected to be at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort. These missing documents presented possible threats to national security, being that some of the documents he had were direct communications with Kim Jong Un, important information concerning Iran’s nuclear program, China, and Hurricane Dorian. The NARA reached out to Trump in a request for information in May 2022 about the missing documents; however, the requests were stalled by Trump’s lawyers when they requested to go through the documents themselves on the claim of “executive privilege” (the presidential right to withhold information from the public for the sake of security). After the Department of Justice met with Trump’s legal team, they and other federal authorities issued a subpoena for information relating to the documents, which led to the revealing of surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago. It showed documents being moved and handled by Mar-a-Lago staff. This led to an FBI search warrant in August which was approved by the Department of Justice, and culminated in an unannounced raid on Trump’s property. Even after documents were found, Trump and his team continued to make false legal and public statements such as, “President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified,” in an attempt to distract and slow down the investigation. In the end, over 150 documents were retrieved. Despite Trump’s adamant denial of committing a crime, he is at risk of serving up to 20 years in prison as well as being charged with more serious crimes such as espionage and treason due to his concealment, tampering, and unauthorized possession of the documents.
The concerns brought forward by Trump’s case led the Department of Justice to take more precautions on the matter of classified information. Late in 2022, 10 classified documents were found in the possession of President Biden and, as of now, around 10 more have been discovered. A special counsel appointed by the Department of Justice has looked into the documents, though their job has been made much simpler due to Biden’s cooperation. Most of the documents were from Biden’s vice presidency and time as a senator. Though Biden’s documents did have some pertinent information about Ukraine and Iran, the documents were from 2016 and are potentially outdated. While some of the documents are considered to be in his possession by mistake, he still is facing an investigation and has had several of his homes and offices searched. The controversy is further complicated by the fact that the first documents they found of Biden’s were discovered on November 4, just 4 days before the midterm elections, yet the story wasn’t made public until January. This raises the opinion that the document information was withheld for political reasons.
Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, also recently faced controversy over classified documents found in his Indiana home. Despite his claim that he took no classified documents when he left office, 12 were discovered by a lawyer. This investigation was brought about by Pence himself in light of Biden’s current document dilemma. He cooperated with the FBI as well as the National Archives, allowing for his case to be much less dramatized. The documents were investigated and returned, but the outcome is still to be determined.
All three situations raise the question of how and why the classified documents were these men’s possession. With that said,Trump’s response incited much more suspicion and concern, especially considering his precarious relationships with Russia and North Korea. However, the situations all endanger the government and the country’s national security to different extents. Trump was in possession of several top secret documents, those that are the most highly classified. Any misplaced classified documents put foreign intelligence, military information, personal information, and much more at risk if they fall into the wrong hands. Moving forward, the Department of Justice will continue to investigate and respond to current and future unlawful handling of classified documents and Trump, Biden, and Pence will ultimately have to face the possible consequences of their actions.