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Colson: Tale of two classified document breaches

John Colson
John Colson
Courtesy photo

So we now have two intertwined “scandals” involving the removal of classified documents from government offices.

One deals with a large cache of such documents ending up in a closet at former President Donald Trump’s resort/playpen/home known as Mar-a-Lago.

The other involves far fewer documents found in locations once used by current President Joe Biden (but reportedly vacated by his staff when he became president), as well as at one of his homes.



A lot remains unknown about the troves of documents, such as their contents and what dangers they posed if put into the wrong hands.

What we do know, in general terms, are the numbers involved.




There are some 300 classified documents in Trump’s case, among roughly 11,000 docs in total, taken as Trump was vacating the White House.

That’s compared to perhaps a dozen or so in Biden’s case, all dating back to either his vice presidency during the Obama years or his U.S. Senate service prior to that.

Predictably, Trump-supporting politicians and commentators have declared the two “scandals” to be equivalent.

These trumpeters have branded Biden a hypocrite and worse for his administration’s use of federal agents to claw back the Trump-related documents, a process that took about two years and involved battles in court over Trump’s supposed “mental declassification” of all the documents he took and other issues.

The difference is Biden claims he did not realize he was holding onto classified documents in two locations, and promptly had them handed over to the appropriate authorities. Trump and his handlers knew they’d been caught and then lied and obfuscated to avoid letting the docs go.

In that context, the two cases are not at all alike.

I should note that there are more general difficulties with this whole fight, starting with the fact that everyone makes mistakes, including elected officials who by accident or otherwise retain documents in office files, garages, etc.

Just imagine the veritable mountain ranges of paperwork involved in occupying the highest offices in the land, and more importantly, in stepping down from those offices. There are rules and guidelines for dealing with all this paperwork, but most critical in this context is the problem that our government regularly overclassifies documents as “secret” or “confidential.”

For years government watchdogs have argued that there is too much of this secrecy, with little or no justification, and that the situation is a disaster waiting to happen.

According to a recent story on National Public Radio, “records are marked as classified three times every second, generating so many secret documents that it’s practically impossible to preserve them all,” as reported by historian Matthew Connelly.

Aside from the mountain ranges of paper generated, Connelly said, the switch to digital records and use of the cloud as storage has made the problem much worse.

Plus, there are several thousand federal bureaucrats with the power and the mandate to classify documents whether they deserve classification or not.

“The sheer volume is something we can’t even measure in paper,” he continued. “We don’t know what’s stored in the cloud — or, in some cases, deleted and just destroyed completely so that no one will ever know.”

So, there’s that to contemplate, along with the fact that no one knows why Trump fought so hard to hang onto the documents.

I recently caught a bit of wicked satire by New Yorker columnist Andy Borowitz about the issue, which goes like this: Borowitz has Trump claiming that Biden’s possession of classified docs is worse than Trump’s.

“The American people know that any documents are safe with me because I would never read even one word of them,” Trump (as imagined by Borowitz) explained. “But Joe reads like a demon, and that’s what makes him so scary.”

Why, then, did Trump want all these papers in the first place? What secrets do they contain that he feels are important enough to warrant this battle?

Well, I have one idea — it’s not any secrets hidden in the paperwork, it’s the fight itself, which Trump knew would come to his doorstep, and he’s reveling in it.

It’s perfect for a showman such as Trump — keeps his name in the headlines, gives him a chance to cast himself as a victim, and riles up his base, all at no cost to himself (so far, at least.)

jbcolson51@gmail.com