Leaders are expected to keep state secrets.  Just not at home.

Leaders are expected to keep state secrets. Just not at home.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats reacted with aggrieved fury when former President Donald Trump was found in possession of classified documents that should have been turned over to the government when he left office. Then, revelations that President Joe Biden also mishandled secret documents sparked a Republican roar of “well, what about it.”

Now, with another discovery of classified documents, this time at the home of Trump’s Vice President Mike Pence, the partisan accusations seem to be melting into a chorus of mortification from Democrats and Republicans alike.

America’s top secrets, it now seems, are not necessarily safe with top officials. Not when they are in the hands of Trump, who disdains the rules and customs of government, and not in the hands of Biden and Pence, who subscribe to them.

“What’s going on here?” asked Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, a top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee when asked about Pence.

“Obviously there is a systemic problem within the executive,” Rubio said. “We’re talking about two successive administrations from two different parties, with officials at the highest level having documents in their possession in places they don’t belong to.”

The Democratic chair of that panel, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, had acid advice for all past and future presidents, regardless of party: “Go check your closets.

The latest revelation came from Pence’s attorney, Greg Jacob, who informed the National Archives – the proper place for these documents – that classified documents were found at Pence’s home in Indiana last week.

Jacob said a seemingly small number of papers were inadvertently packaged and carried to the home at the end of the Trump administration and were revealed when Pence, prompted by discoveries at Biden’s home and the offices of the group of pre-presidential reflection, asked the lawyers to see if he had any too.

Special advocates are investigating the Trump and Biden episodes. In all three cases, the significance of the classified material and whether its mishandling harms national security is not known to the public. But it is clear that some of the documents recovered from Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida were top secret.

Trump, a Republican, took it as an affront that the government came to search his quarters for classified documents he was not supposed to have, even though he fought to retrieve them for months, and the government was forced to issue a subpoena to obtain them. Aides to Biden, a Democrat, say they cooperated quickly and fully when such documents were found in a former office in Washington, despite waiting months to go public with what happened.

In the Republican-controlled House, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, a candidate to head the intelligence committee, said he would seek the same intelligence review and damages assessment in the Pence case as in previous discoveries.

“It’s serious business for any government official to mishandle classified documents,” Turner said.

The reckless handling of secure information by senior officials became a politically charged issue during the 2016 presidential race, when Hillary Clinton, the Democratic candidate, was investigated for her loose email practices in as Secretary of State.

Then-FBI chief James Comey concluded that she and her aides were “extremely negligent in their handling of highly sensitive and highly classified information”, but not voluntarily, and he recommended no prosecution at all. penal.

The sprawling and ungainly government of the United States has many people who can see at least some secrets and are supposed to keep them tightly under wraps. According to a government report, some 1.25 million held top-secret clearance in 2019.

Leaks of classified information to the media are not uncommon. But lawmakers from both parties have said something is broken in the classification system when a president, ex-president and ex-vice president end up with papers they have no right to. have.

“I do not believe there were ‘sinister motives’ with respect to the handling of classified information by President Biden, President Trump or Vice President Pence,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham tweeted. Caroline from the south. “We have a classified information problem that needs to be resolved.”

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., have been working on an overhaul of the classification system for years, which he called a ‘broken mess’.

“The overall system is at the point where there’s so much stuff out there that it’s hard to figure out what needs to be classified, and then it’s hard to figure out what needs to be declassified,” Wyden said.

Avril Haines, National Intelligence Director, “has begun the drudgery, for the first time really in years and years, of working on a bipartisan basis on this,” Wyden added. “I think it’s a brave decision for her.”

“Maybe it’s as simple as the way they pack the boxes,” Rubio mused. “I know the processes we have in place to protect this material at the legislative level, but we need to have a better understanding of how this is handled at the executive level, and probably not just limited to presidents and vice presidents, but key staff and other government officials who have access to it.

Representatives for former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney, said there were no instances of classified documents found outside the custody of the archives. after their term.

But at least several times a year, former officials from all levels of government discover they have classified documents and turn them over to authorities, said a person familiar with the process, speaking on condition of anonymity in due to the sensitive nature of classified documents.

This person said former President Jimmy Carter found classified documents at his home in Plains, Georgia, on at least one occasion and returned them to the National Archives. But Carter’s records legally belonged to him because it wasn’t until after his presidency that the law defined all presidential and vice-presidential records as the property of the US government.

Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives, said it’s possible for innocent mistakes to happen when one administration hands over power to the next, given “the harassed nature of staff preparing for a presidential transition”.

“I am not surprised that documents with classified marks can be found intermingled with personal papers in the homes of former government officials,” he said. He recommended that outgoing officials at the highest levels be required to subject papers designated “personal” to much stricter scrutiny before the boxes leave the premises.

On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, it was becoming clear that the Pence episode had reset the blame game.

“No one is above the law,” said Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida. “I don’t know how someone ends up with classified documents. Filed’ on it.

Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas noted that classified documents only come out of committee offices in locked bags.

“In my book, it’s never permitted to take classified documents outside of a secure facility or by secure transportation between those secure facilities,” he said.

Wyden said that in his many years on the committee, it’s always been a “lodestar” that you don’t take anything out of the room.

“Period,” he said. ” Period.


Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Zeke Miller and Nomaan Merchant contributed to this report.

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