The White House is scrambling to grapple with a controversy over classified documents and undercut Republican efforts to silence President Joe Biden and free former President Donald Trump from his own secretive documentary drama.
Biden aides spent the weekend trying to shake off a misguided communications strategy that exacerbated the fallout from the discovery of the vice president’s documents at his Delaware home and former office.
House Republicans ask White House for information on Biden documents
But now, according to a special counsel investigation, they face the possibility of a renewed search, with the politically explosive discovery of more documents possible as a new Republican majority in the House sweeps through the storm. Meanwhile, Biden is growing increasingly frustrated with his plight, according to the latest CNN report.
The president is trying to get the situation under control, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. In the short term, volatility in the documents has swamped a string of favorable events, including a modest cooling in inflation, which he hopes to use as a springboard for a re-election campaign he expects to announce soon. The White House’s clumsy public relations strategy with some 20 documents has dashed any hope of drawing a line between Biden’s cooperation with the authorities and Trump’s months of resistance and obfuscation of hundreds of pages of classified material.
Now that Biden faces the same special counsel investigation as Trump, the White House is under intense pressure to prevent the classic scenario of an affiliated investigation sparked by a minor scandal leaking into other areas that could consume a Biden presidency.
Former deputy attorney general says it’s a ‘key question’ for Biden
The president’s hope that this will be just a blip in early 2023 hinges on several key questions, and the White House now faces a question beyond the White House that has found a definitive answer difficult.
- Are there more documents waiting to be discovered that could increase the political weight of the controversy?
- Will there be more searches after sets of documents are found in the former office Biden used as vice president and in his home?
- Who conducts such searches? Biden’s lawyer? Given that Attorney General Merrick Garland last week appointed a special counsel to stave off political interference, could the FBI be involved?
- Given that the first set of documents was discovered in November, why did it take so long to search for other possible locations where the vice president’s records, including potentially classified documents, might be found? A source close to the investigation told CNN’s Evan Perez that the pace of the Biden team’s search was linked to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Chicago, which originally investigated the matter.
- How quickly can House Republicans effectively use this drama to fuel one of their priorities — creating a corrupt and shady story around the business interests of the Biden family and its son Hunter?
- Will the so far slow White House communication efforts be able to turn the GOP’s apparent hypocrisy (not caring about Trump’s larger document haul) into a broader political message that could paint the House majority as extreme ahead of the 2024 election?
These questions could help determine whether this is another Washington scandal that leaves voters apathetic because it doesn’t necessarily equate to their top priority, or whether the response creates a broader impression of incompetence and confusion that could cause long-term damage .
With the White House increasingly under siege, Biden chafed at how the dossier story dampened the political onslaught he received after avoiding a disastrous red Republican wave in November’s midterm elections.
CNN’s White House team reports a quiet resignation mood in the West Wing as aides wait to see if more classified documents will turn up in Biden’s files dating back to his tenure as Obama During the Vice President of the Government.
As is often the case in such cases, there is a clear tension between the tactics the president’s lawyers might promote (they are obliged to keep him safe from criminal responsibility) and the need for a public relations approach aimed at undercutting political influence relation. damage.
So while it may have been legally justifiable to say nothing about the documents initially found in the vice president’s office in November before the story emerged earlier this month, it is an unsustainable political exercise.
Then, when Biden addressed the issue last week, he failed to reveal that more documents had been found, which only made matters worse because it made it look like he had something to hide. More discoveries would make things worse.
“In this particular story, they don’t look good,” said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama and now a political analyst for CNN.
“They were in a dilemma, and in fact, the critical mistake was drip, drip, drip,” Axelrod told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “The essence of crisis communication is — figuring out where the story is going, getting there as quickly as possible, and getting there as thoroughly as possible.”
Hear ex-Obama adviser’s warning to Biden over classified documents issue
There are signs that the battered White House is beginning to shift its strategy. Over the weekend, for example, White House senior counsel Richard Sauber said in a statement that five more pages of documents were found at Biden’s Wilmington residence last week. The move appears to be an attempt to get ahead of damaging revelations, rather than wait for reporters to cover them.
On Monday, the White House counsel’s office rejected Republican requests for more details, saying there were no records of visitors to Biden’s private residence. The GOP is demanding such material as it seeks to quickly expand its investigation. The Secret Service also said the Presidential Protective Agency does not keep such records.
But Republican House Majority Leader Steve Scalise warned: “Just because they say that, you don’t believe them.”
Revealing to reporters that Biden is frustrated with the handling of the document drama may itself be an attempt to contain damage and shield the president from further political exposure. But whether the government has reached a point where it can start deciding the terms of the story remains to be seen.
Days of White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, dogged by questions in the briefing room and unable to provide in-depth answers, did little to help the president’s case. His own comments last week also seemed to add to his woes — including his quip that documents found in his garage were safe because it was locked to keep his beloved Corvette safe.
Identifying a convincing mitigation strategy will be critical in determining how the Biden saga affects the broader public.
One goal of Washington Republicans is to maximize Biden’s unease and use his problems with documents to undercut the case for eventual criminal charges against Trump for withholding classified documents or obstruction.
The two special counsel investigations are separate, and Trump appears to face far greater legal risk. But in a campaign where both are likely candidates, it’s hard to see, in a practical sense, how a former president could be indicted over classified documents while his successor is up in the air.
On the face of it, Republicans are guilty of grave hypocrisy, since few of them care that Trump refuses to turn over more classified material — a stance that led to a court-approved search of more than 100 documents. But now that Biden is embarrassed by finding fewer numbers, the Republican majority in the House is going into overdrive. For example, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer said last year that Trump’s case was not a priority but has been aggressively targeting Biden.
Tapper asks GOP lawmakers if he will investigate Trump or just Biden
“We’re just hoping that we’ll be able to do that in the future,” the Kentucky Republican told CNN’s Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday. Treat former President Trump and current President Biden equally,” he accused Democrats of double standards.
Unlike Trump, however, there is no indication that Biden attempted in any way to conceal the documents after they were discovered, or to prevent their return to the government as required by law when senior officials leave the executive branch.
If the White House can get hold of that narrative, it could use the differences between Biden’s and Trump’s approaches to limit the political damage to the president and begin a pushback aimed at showing Republicans a cover for the unpopular former president .
But after last week, it’s still a big if.