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Other View: Biden, Trump both mishandled classified materials

Each special prosecutor should uphold the ethos that justice is blind and follow the facts and the law in each case, without fear or favor and without bowing to the toxic political environment.

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The Robert F. Kennedy Justice Department Building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
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President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump are both being investigated over their handling of classified materials. While publicly disclosed information reflects that the cases are clearly different, the investigatory processes should not be.

To that end, Attorney General Merrick Garland rightly appointed special prosecutors in each instance, including naming Robert Hur — a Trump appointee — in the Biden case, just weeks after naming Jack Smith to lead the Trump investigation.

Each special prosecutor should uphold the ethos that justice is blind and follow the facts and the law in each case, without fear or favor and without bowing to the toxic political environment enveloping America.

In that other court — the one of public opinion — citizens should also follow the facts as reported and realize there are key distinctions between the two cases.

First, while the law is clear on the protocol on handling — or in Biden's and Trump's case, mishandling — classified material, the scale and scope of the documents discovered so far differ. More than 300 documents have surfaced in the Trump case, compared with about 10 in the initial discovery regarding Biden. However, further discoveries of classified documents held by Biden attests to the need for a thorough search process.

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Biden's attorneys were forthcoming about their initial discovery, which was reported to the National Archives on the same day. Trump's tranche of documents, conversely, were the subject of repeated requests and an eventual subpoena, eventually resulting in the FBI being compelled to search his Mar-a-Lago residence.

"When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?" Trump wrote on his own social media network, Truth Social, last week, echoing congressional calls from some Republicans for commensurate action. The answer, as lawmakers and the former president certainly know, is that there's no evidence yet that a similar search is needed. Biden and his aides have been forthcoming and allowed full and unfettered access to possible areas where other documents could possibly be found, something Trump and his aides clearly did not do.

This isn't the "weaponization" of the federal government against conservatives, as the newly empowered House GOP majority increasingly terms it, but appropriate protocol from an apolitical law enforcement agency — one that previous Republican politicians were right to support.

At this point, there are more questions than answers. For example, does a former president have the same responsibility for classified document handling as a former vice president? And what about the timing of the discoveries? Biden's lawyers discovered the documents on Nov. 2, 2022, and the National Archives retrieved them the next day, then referred the matter to the Justice Department on Nov. 4. On Nov. 10, the Justice Department informed the White House it had begun a preliminary inquiry into the matter.

It's fair and appropriate to ask why the Justice Department did not reveal its inquiry before Americans headed to the polls on Nov. 8, especially since Trump's handling of classified documents had been a campaign issue for Biden and Democratic congressional candidates.

As these and other key questions are investigated, the news media must balance the gravity of the Biden findings in light of the Trump investigation. To date most major newspapers, including the Star Tribune — as well as broadcast outlets such as CBS, which broke the story — have appropriately given it significant play. But part of the news media's role includes context. And ultimately, as with all jurisprudence, the facts are what matter if justice indeed is to remain blind.

©2023 StarTribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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