The mishandling of classified documents by former presidents and vice presidents has become a hot-button issue.
In the latest episode of As the Classified Documents Turn, several documents with the classified designation were found at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence.
Pence’s attorney told the National Archives that his client used outside legal counsel to look for possible classified documents after it was discovered that President Joe Biden had classified documents at his Delaware home and former office at Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said, “I don’t know what the hell is going on around here. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. I have no reason to believe it’s nefarious in any way, but clearly at the executive branch they’re just packing boxes.”
Rubio serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Classified documents often contain information that could be used against America by foreign adversaries.
The finding of documents has caused many in the media to look at Pence critically after he criticized President Biden for having classified documents in his possession from his time as vice president during the administration of former President Barack Obama.
Additionally, politicians on the right and left criticized Biden for having classified documents after he criticized former President Donald Trump for keeping classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Biden’s team notes differences in Trump’s situation saying that once Biden’s team discovered the classified documents, they immediately turned them over and continued looking for more documents.
On the contrary, Trump would not turn the documents over, claiming that he had declassified the documents.
However, alleged declassification would not change the fact that the documents belong to the National Archives and not former politicians.
Refusing to turn over the documents led the FBI to execute a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago to recover the National Archives’ documents.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters, “I don’t get it. Anybody that deals with classified materials knows that they have to be maintained in a secure place and not available to our adversaries by putting them in a place that’s easy to penetrate. So—that’s not good.”
Cornyn added, “I don’t know how this happens, but obviously it’s something that needs to be corrected.”
The problem, reportedly, dates back decades.
The Associated Press reported, “It’s been a problem off and on for decades, from presidents to Cabinet members and staff across multiple administrators stretching as far back as Jimmy Carter…
“It turns out former officials from all levels of government discover they are in possession of classified material and turn them over to the authorities at least several times a year, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of classified documents…
“Former President Jimmy Carter found classified materials at his home in Plains, Georgia, on at least one occasion and returned them to the National Archives…
“An aide to the Carter Center provided no details when asked about the account of Carter discovering documents at his home after leaving office in 1981. It’s notable that Carter signed the Presidential Records Act in 1978 but it did not apply to records of his administration, taking effect years later when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated.”
Before the Reagan administration, classified documents were often seen as the property of the presidents and past presidents.
Officials say that there is a protocol of how to handle classified documents.
The Presidential Records Act, though, gives clear guidelines of how those records should be handled.
However, at the highest levels of government, the rules often get ignored.
Many say executives often ignore the rules when it is convenient, expedient or if they are careless.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said, “Executives go back and forth to their house with documents and read them. They read them at night, they bring them back.”
Kaine added, “I can see how this happens. But again, every situation is different. They are all very serious. So, how many? How serious? How did you get them? Who had access to them? Are you being cooperative? And the same set of questions has to be answered with respect to Pence and with President Biden and President Trump.”
Former Vice President Dick Cheney said that he is not in possession of classified documents.
A spokesperson for former President George W. Bush said, “All presidential records—classified and unclassified—were turned over to NARA upon leaving the White House.”
NARA stands for the National Archives and Records Administration.
A spokesperson for former President Obama said they were “not aware of any missing boxes of presidential records from the Obama administration.”
Similarly, a spokesperson for former President Bill Clinton said, “All of President Clinton’s classified materials were properly turned over to NARA in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”
Before the uncovering of classified documents at Biden’s homes and former office, it appeared that Trump’s mishandling of classified documents would be a 2024 campaign issue that Biden could exploit in the event the two face off again for the Oval Office.
However, when Biden’s team uncovered documents, and did not immediately disclose the information close to the midterm elections of 2022, many Republicans pounced on the issue, hoping that it would help the GOP’s case to retake the White House.
However, the fact that potential presidential candidate Pence had classified too, the issue might not make much of a dent on the 2024 presidential race.
Instead, more safeguards might be put into place to make sure future executives do not make similar mistakes when handling classified documents.