The Media Downplayed Biden's Classified Documents Scandal. It's Now the Subject of a 'Sprawling' Probe.

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September 28, 2023

The federal probe of President Joe Biden's alleged mishandling of classified documents from his time as vice president "has grown into a sprawling examination of Obama-era security protocols," ABC News reported this week.

Federal agents have reportedly spent nine months investigating whether Biden illegally stored classified documents in his personal residence in Wilmington, Delaware, and his office at the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. At least 100 witnesses, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have been interviewed as part of the probe, ABC reported.

The sprawling investigation is a far cry from what the media predicted when news of the classified documents broke in January 2023. The press was quick to dismiss the incident, compare it favorable to former president Donald Trump's own document scandal, and accuse Republicans of "pouncing" on a non-story.

PBS: "Biden Faces More Scrutiny Over Classified Documents, GOP Demands Cuts to Raise Debt Limit"

For the second straight week, President Biden is facing scrutiny over his handling of classified documents from his days as vice president and Republicans were quick to pounce after more papers were found. ...

Weijia Jiang, Senior White House Correspondent, CBS News: "And so I think this is a pain for them right now, but if you talk to officials, they say the American people do not care about this. So, I think they are just really trying to turn the page as quickly as possible."

U.S. News: "The Dramatic Differences Between the Trump and Biden Document Dramas":

The Biden documents affair is another frustrating, unforced error just as the president’s approval ratings are starting to inch upward and ahead of an expected reelection announcement. ...

Legally, the differences between the cases of former President Donald Trump and sitting President Joe Biden are dramatically different. Politically, those differences may not matter at all and may affect both the investigation into whether Trump mishandled documents and Biden's ability to use the issue against Trump in a hypothetical 2024 rematch.

Since the Biden administration acknowledged—only after the story was unearthed by CBS—that government documents had been found in a locked closet at an office at the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Republicans have pounced on the issue. ...

Axios: "House GOP Seizes on Biden Docs as New Attack Line":

Zoom out: While House Republicans have a slim majority, their subpoena power gives them leeway to launch a battery of investigations—and not investigate other matters.

Comer said Sunday that the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, which he chairs, will not investigate former President Trump over his handling of classified documents.

"I don’t feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time investigating President Trump because the Democrats have done that for the past six years," Comer said.

CNN: "There Are Clear Distinctions Between Trump and Biden’s Two Cases":

Republicans seized on revelations that several classified documents from Joe Biden’s time as vice president were found in his former private office to create cover for former President Donald Trump’s hoarding of secret records. ...

The new controversy so far appears to be on a smaller scale than the more than 100 classified documents – some bearing the highest designations of government secrecy – taken from Trump’s resort at Mar-a-Lago after a court-approved search by FBI agents. ...

Fairness and respect for the law dictate that Biden should answer many of the same questions that Trump is facing, regarding whether he was entitled to the records, why they were not previously turned over, whether they were securely stored and how they ended up in his office in the first place. ...

NBC News: "Biden Classified Docs vs. Trump Classified Docs: What's the Difference?":

The discovery of classified documents among Biden's papers is a bad look for the president, but the circumstances of the find are much different from those of the Trump case. ...

The discovery of classified documents among President Joe Biden's vice presidential papers in a Washington office has led to yowls by some Republicans who say there is an unfair double standard being applied to Donald Trump's stash of classified documents—but the circumstances of the finds are very different.

The media's coverage of the classified document story focused largely on how "surprised" Biden and Blinken were to hear the news:

CNN: "Blinken 'Surprised' to Learn About Discovery of Classified Documents, State Department Spokesperson Says"

Reuters: "Biden 'Surprised' About Finding of Classified Documents, Vows Cooperation"

Washington Post: "Biden ‘Surprised’ By Classified Documents as Hill Demands More Information"

CBS News: "Biden Says He Was 'Surprised' Classified Documents Were Found at Penn Biden Center Office"

Perhaps it's time to update the various timelines the media compiled after the news broke, which have laid dormant for months:

PBS: "A Timeline of the Discovery and Disclosure of Classified Records Tied to Biden." Last updated February 2.

CBS News: "The Timeline of Events Surrounding the Discovery of Documents at Biden's Former Office and Residence." Last updated February 1.

New York Times: "Timeline of the Biden Documents Case: What We Know So Far." Last updated January 21.

TIME: "Biden’s Classified Documents: A Timeline of What We Know So Far." Last updated January 14.