In Washington, “secret” is synonymous with “controversy”

WASHINGTON – Hillary Clinton’s presidential dreams were undermined by her use of a private email server that contained classified information.

Donald Trump risked criminal charges by refusing to return top-secret records to the government after leaving the White House.

And now the rediculous classified grades files could be a political headache for President Joe Biden.

These three situations are far from equivalent. But taken together, they represent a remarkable piece in which records management has been a constant source of contention at the highest levels of American politics.

For some, this is a warning about clumsiness or arrogance when it comes to official secrecy. For others, it’s a reminder that the federal government has created a cumbersome — and perhaps unmanageable — system for storing and protecting classified information.

“Mistakes happen, and it’s so easy to grab a stack of documents off your desk when you leave the office and you don’t realize there’s a classified document among those files,” said Mark Zaid, a lawyer who works on national security issues. “You just haven’t heard of it, for whatever reason.”

Now Americans hear about it all the time. Political talk shows were jammed with conversations about which papers were hidden, in which drawer and in which closet. Selectors are trained in intelligence jargon such as TS/SCI, HUMINT and damage assessment.

Clinton’s mail server was dominant storyline her presidential campaign and the criminal investigation of Trump darkened his hopes about returning to the White House. Republicans, who recently took control of the House of Representatives, are now also ready to scrutinize Biden’s dossier practices, especially after the second batch of secret materials was found.

“The American people are very aware of the issues surrounding classified documents, in part because we’ve been talking about them for almost eight years,” said Alex Conant, a Republican political consultant.

That’s when a House Republican committee investigating the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, discovered that Clinton had used a personal email account while she was secretary of state. The revelation led to a federal investigation that resulted in no charges, but found that 110 of the 30,000 emails that were turned over to the government contained classified information.

Trump, who bashed Clinton for her handling of emails, won the election and quickly demonstrated a carelessness with secrets. He memorably discussed classified intelligence with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, raising concerns that he might have compromised a source who was helping foil terrorist plots.

After disputing the results of his election defeat, Trump left office in disarray and brought boxes of government documents with him to Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort. Some were turned over to the National Archives, which is responsible for the president’s papers, but he refused to release others.

Eventually, the Department of Justice, fearing that national security secrets were at risk, obtained a search warrant and found more classified documents at the resort.

A special prosecutor was appointed to determine whether to pursue criminal charges in the case or a separate investigation into Trump’s bid to seize power on January 6, 2021, when mobs of his supporters stormed the US Capitol.

Larry Pfeifer, a former intelligence official, said the situation with Trump’s documents is far different from the one he faced while in government.

During Pfeiffer’s time as CIA chief of staff, classified files were misplaced several times in presidential libraries, he said.

“It just happens,” said Pfeiffer, now director of the Michael W. Hayden Center for Intelligence, Policy and International Security at George Mason University. “Mistakes are made and things are found.”

He said that seems more likely in the case of classified documents that were found in an office used by Biden at the Pennsylvania Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement after his term as vice president ended.

Biden’s personal lawyers discovered the documents and contacted the White House counsel’s office, and the National Archives seized the records the next day.

The situation appears to be an “average common mistake” that is “handled by the rules, the textbooks,” Pfeiffer said.

However, he said the government would be wise to review its records management practices during the transition between administrations. It’s been six years since Biden left the office of vice president, which means classified documents have been misplaced for a long time.

“It’s not good no matter how anybody plays it,” he said.

In addition to the files found at the Penn Biden Center, more classified material was discovered elsewhere, a person familiar with the matter said Wednesday. It is still unclear when and where the documents were found. The man was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and wished to remain anonymous.

Attorney General Merrick Garland asked U.S. Atty to consider the case after the initial discovery, and House Republicans said they would also investigate.

Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the new chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, sent a letter to the White House on Tuesday saying his panel would investigate “Biden’s failure to return the vice president’s documents — including highly classified documents “.

“The committee is concerned that President Biden has compromised sources and methods through his own mishandling of classified documents,” Comer wrote.

Biden said this week that he was surprised to learn of the documents, which were discovered in November but only became known about their existence this week. He said he did not know what information they contained and said his team “did what they had to do” when they were found.

Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman who served on Biden’s National Security Council last year, said it was unlikely such an episode would have made the news if not for the simultaneous investigation of Trump.

“The Penn Biden Center would turn over those materials, they would go into the archives, and that would be the end of it,” he said.

Miller said the situation is a reminder that “the government is keeping too many documents classified.”

“There is no good process for declassifying them,” he said. “And when you create that structure, you’re unnecessarily expanding the universe of classified documents that can be inadvertently mishandled.”

It’s not a new problem, and it’s a concern shared even by Biden’s top intelligence adviser, Avril Haynes. In a letter to senators last year, Haynes said there were “flaws” in the current classification system, calling it a “fundamental issue that we must address.”

However, Miller said, “no one has found a good answer to this problem.”

Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, copied or distributed without permission.

Source link

USA News