One on One: Dripping classified documents

Published 8:35 am Sunday, February 12, 2023

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By D.G. Martin

Was it the classified documents?

Is this what the political experts will ask themselves if Joe Biden loses the 2024 presidential election?

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Will they say the 2024 election was decided when classified documents were found in President Joe Biden’s home, prior offices and vacation house? And that President Biden had allowed classified documents to be stored in his private homes and offices?

We do not know.

But every experienced political expert would say that a problem such as Biden’s classified documents is best handled by getting the matter out to the public all at once, rather than dripping out pieces over time.

On the challenge of minimizing the drip-drip, Biden got off to an awful start.

Here is how the story has “dripped’ so far based on a Key Events summary prepared by ABC News (


Nov. 4: The National Archives inspector general contacted the Justice Department to say the White House notified the National Archives that documents bearing classification markings were identified at Penn Biden Center, the think tank in Washington that Biden used after leaving office as vice president in 2017.

Nov 9: FBI commenced an assessment to understand whether classified information had been mishandled.

Nov. 14: Attorney General Merrick Garland assigned U.S. Attorney John Lausch to conduct an initial investigation on whether to appoint a special counsel.

Dec. 20: Biden’s personal counsel informed Lausch that additional documents bearing classification markings were identified in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington, Del. home. The FBI went to the location and secured those documents, Garland said.

Jan. 5: U.S. Attorney Lausch advised Garland that further investigation by a special counsel was warranted.

Jan. 9: Reporting broke that Garland assigned Lausch to review classified documents found at the Penn Biden Center. The White House confirmed that the president’s attorneys found a “small number of documents with classified markings” in a locked closet at the center.

Jan. 10: Biden said he was “surprised” to learn that there were any government records at the Penn Biden Center, adding, “I don’t know what’s in the documents.”

Jan. 12: The president’s personal counsel called Lausch and stated that an additional document bearing classification markings was identified at the president’s residence in Wilmington.

Jan. 14: A special counsel for Biden, Richard Sauber, confirmed that “five additional pages” of classified information were found when he was working with the Department of Justice to hand over a one-page classified document found days earlier at the Wilmington home.

Jan. 20: The Department of Justice searched Biden’s Wilmington home and took possession of more items containing classified information.

Feb. 1. The FBI conducted a “planned search” of Biden’s home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.


And the story continues dripping, day by day.

Possibly, Biden’s problem with classified documents, as serious as it is, can be successfully managed with explanations that include comparison with other important political figures, including former Vice President Pence, who made similar careless mistakes.

But it is also possible that the dripping messages about classified documents could wear down Biden.

Dripping messages about then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s alleged mistakes in the so-called Benghazi affair being responsible for the deaths of four Americans helped sink her 2016 presidential campaign, and a similar series of messages could do the same to Biden’s 2024 campaign.

In Biden’s case, the drip-drip messages about his carelessness in handling classified documents provides a way to imply that his advanced age diminishes his ability to handle important routine matters.

That message in its simple form would be that the 80-year old Biden is just too old to be president again.

It might not be fair, but that will not keep it from being an effective campaign tactic to be used by any Biden opponent.

D.G. Martin, a retired lawyer, served as UNC-System’s vice president for public affairs and hosted PBS-NC’s North Carolina Bookwatch.