Dem 51
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GOP 49
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A Fly in the Ointment

When it was discovered the private citizen Joe Biden had kept documents that he should not have kept, Republicans were overjoyed. Not only did that allow them a fresh line of attack against a sitting Democratic president, it also gave them a defense for Donald Trump's document handling. Those 30 or so pages of stuff spread across several Biden offices were like manna from heaven.

As of yesterday, however, the manna is no longer as sweet. As it turns out, Biden was not the only VP to take his classified work home with him... and keep it. CNN broke the news that about a dozen classified documents were discovered by Mike Pence's attorneys at the former VP's new residence. Team Pence did exactly what it was supposed to do and contacted the FBI, which picked up the files later the same day. Nothing more is known, at this point, about the contents of the documents or the level of classification. The next day, Pence staffers turned a bunch of additional boxes of material over to the National Archives, so the staff there could review everything to make sure there is no additional classified stuff.

The Pence situation and the Biden situation are, quite clearly, very similar—far above and beyond the fact that they are both former VPs. Both screwed up, by all indications without corrupt intent. Once the error was discovered, both followed the exact procedure they were supposed to follow. Oh, and Pence, like Biden before him, categorically denied that he might have classified materials at home, before learning he had classified materials at home.

It is going to be difficult for Republicans to somehow argue, then, that Pence is pure as the driven snow, while Biden is guilty of unspeakable evil. That is not to say some of them won't try; Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who is surely smart enough to know that he's peddling rubbish, appeared on Fox yesterday and declared:

Oh look, the Mike Pence story, it's still early. You know, Mike Pence, as you noted he is a good friend, he's a good man. He's explained where these came from, what his office has put out is that in packing up the vice presidential offices that there were a couple of papers that were classified that were inadvertently put with non-classified materials. That was a mistake, but there's no reason to think this was anything but inadvertent.

That is very different from what Joe Biden has done. Joe Biden has given zero explanation how these classified documents got there. And in particular, he has given no explanation as to how he has documents from his time in the Senate.

OK there, Teddy. Even Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who is about as chameleonlike as they come, did some backtracking yesterday and said that it's clear the problem is systemic.

That's a good point; there clearly is a systemic problem. We do not have security clearances; our past work for SPECTRE precludes that. And so, we are not experts, and are happy to be enlightened by those readers who do have expertise. That said, it is apparent to us that the classification system is broken. We've spoken about error management many times before—that it is better to make many small errors than one big error. And a predictable outcome of that dynamic is that way too many documents are classified. After all, if you classify something unnecessarily, it is unlikely that any harm will be done. On the other hand, if you fail to classify something important, then it could create real problems. So, much less risky to err significantly on the side of caution.

The problem is that if way too many documents are classified (and that's before we talk about the hodgepodge of different classification systems used by different agencies), it becomes very difficult to track them all, and some important ones might slip through the cracks. It also undermines the extent to which participants in the system take the "classified" designation as seriously as they should. If someone handles dozens or hundreds of classified documents each day, they just aren't going to have the mental energy to treat each of them as if their lives depended on keeping that paperwork secure.

We wonder if, at this point, there is an opportunity here for Joe Biden. He could perhaps appoint some sort of documents czar to work on the problem and to find a way that the government can do better in terms of keeping secret and secure the things that actually need to be kept secret and secure.

Whatever Biden chooses to do, Donald Trump's life just got tougher (and also see below). If AG Merrick Garland goes after Trump but does not pursue Biden or Pence, then it makes it pretty clear that the problem is not having the documents per se, it's obstructing the government after the documents have been uncovered. Yes, if Trump is indicted and Biden is not, Fox and its ilk will claim "partisan witch hunt!" But everyone outside of the MAGA faithful will rightly wonder why, if Garland is on a which hunt, he's not also going after Pence. (Z)

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