How does Joe Biden’s case of documents on private property differ to Donald Trump’s?

Joe Biden has found himself in a similar situation regarding documents found on his property much like his predecessor, Donald Trump. But how different are the two situations?

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The President of the United States, Joe Biden, has found himself in hot water this week after reports emerged that two classified documents were found in two locations linked to Biden.

The documents, part of Biden’s time with the Obama administration, have immediately drawn parallels to the case of former POTUS, Donald Trump, who also had several classified documents on his private residences.

Trump’s case led to a wave of supporters for the former president calling foul on the raid the FBI undertook at Mar-a-Lago in August 2022. But many of those same supporters (who have long been known as “Trumplicans”) are now awaiting what fate will befall a president that some, to this day, still believe ‘stole’ the last US presidential election.

Away from Trump’s supporter base, there are also the bipartisan members of Congress and the Senate who believe that the same rigorous investigations should be undertaken for the current POTUS and as thorough as they were in Trump’s case.

But while one situation elicited calls once again for criminal proceedings to be brought again a former president, the current president seems to not have had the same furore for his circumstances.

What are the differences between the two cases that have led to a different dynamic of how Biden is being treated and how Donald Trump has been treated? Both situations are being investigated by the US Department of Justice - but is one situation legally different from the other, which Democrats are claiming?

What documents were found in Biden and Trump’s residences?

There have only been reports of what was found on both the former and current POTUS personal residencies, however, the nature of the documents are very different if those reports are correct.

The classified documents that were found during the Biden investigation reportedly contained classified papers commingled with non-classified materials, with the subjects and content yet unknown. All of the documents though were shown to be dated at a time when Biden served as Vice President under the Barack Obama administration.

The Trump documents are reported to have included an unidentified foreign power’s nuclear secrets and other military capabilities. The bigger issue regarding Trump’s case is that several of the documents found were also dated after his leadership came to an end, meaning he had no authorization to remove classified material to his private dwellings.

How were the documents reclaimed in both situations?

The raid of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residency by FBI agents became one of the biggest news stories in 2022, with images on news outlets across the world focusing on the almost boring routine of walking out with box after box of documents. However, what was in those documents was the big talking point of the matter.

Around 11,000 classified documents, reportedly ranging from boring administrative records to the more salacious documents that might threaten US national security, were recovered from the Mar-a-Lago home. The point of contention was that Trump actively tried to obstruct the raid on his home, leading to accusations the former president was trying his best to keep ahold of the documents.

Biden’s situation involved far fewer documents from his time as Vice President. Two locations were searched - the first at the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center for Diplomacy, a think-tank where Biden was an honorary professor until 2019. The other location documents were found was the garage of President Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.

The key difference here is that the documents were found by lawyers for the President and sent back to the National Archives, which referred the matter to the justice department because of their sensitive nature, a source reports. This would mean that while Trump was actively obstructing an investigation, Biden and his team were happy for the investigations to occur and admit they made a mistake.

What happened after the documents were discovered?

The Guardian reports that the US Department of Justice will look into the behavior and possible motivations for taking the documents. However, one’s reaction to their situation is wholly different from the other’s which legally puts them in a worse position.

Biden’s team cooperated through the proceedings the moment that the documents were discovered by Biden’s lawyers. US attorney general, Merrick Garland, asked John Lausch, a Trump appointee as US attorney for the northern district of Illinois, to conduct a review of what and why the classified documents were doing on both properties. Despite many Republicans demanding a criminal investigation or special counsel, the attorney general has so far decided not to take it down that route.

However, in Trump’s case, he was found to be actively obstructing the court of justice when refusing to allow anyone to search his home for classified documents. This led to the now infamous raid on Trump’s private residence and the appointment of a special counsel by Merrick to investigate the case.

What is each of their supporters saying?

Trump supporters still believe that the former president was unfairly targeted during an FBI raid of his Mar-a-Lago residence in August 2022 (Credit: Getty Image)Trump supporters still believe that the former president was unfairly targeted during an FBI raid of his Mar-a-Lago residence in August 2022 (Credit: Getty Image)
Trump supporters still believe that the former president was unfairly targeted during an FBI raid of his Mar-a-Lago residence in August 2022 (Credit: Getty Image)

Biden supporters will no doubt view this as a problem as it suppresses their arguments against Trump due to his handling of sensitive documents. They no longer have a “moral platform” larger than Trump’s given that their president is accused of a situation that they used to attack the former President.

In the Republican camp, some believe that he was unfairly targeted (a claim Trump himself is quick to bring up) and that Biden’s situation can be used as a means of ammunition for Trump’s impending run for president in 2024.

Who is in more trouble then?

At this early juncture, it is hard to say; both men have taken documents that were highly sensitive from the National Archive and held onto them when they no longer either needed to or had the correct authorization.

From the outset, given Biden’s team has been willing to cooperate with the investigations so far, the current President might not be in as much hot water as Trump, who actively was trying to prevent those documents from being found that led to the raid. But until anyone knows what those documents that were found in the properties Biden is linked with regard, it would be unfair to cast a final judgement.

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