Multiple mainstream news outlets that criticized President Joe Biden over his retention of records that ought to have been in federal custody, including several classified documents, were quick to accept the claim from former Vice President Mike Pence’s team that he “inadvertently” misplaced several classified documents as well.
CNN first reported Tuesday that one of Pence’s lawyers discovered about a dozen documents with classified markings stored among boxes of other records at Pence’s Indiana home during a voluntary search last week. Pence’s team then contacted the National Archives and FBI, and arranged for the classified documents to be picked up that evening while a Pence staffer physically returned the remaining boxes of material to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The search was conducted in the wake of the discovery of classified documents from Biden’s own time as vice president. The Biden documents were found at the president’s Delaware home and a D.C. office affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania.
In previous media interviews, Pence had claimed he was confident that he did not have any classified documents and criticized an alleged double standard between the Department of Justice’s handling of the Biden case and the August 2022 search of disgraced ex-President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Pence’s criticism had ignored key details relating to Trump’s long pattern of obstruction in the government’s efforts to regain the records, in contrast to Biden’s cooperation now.
When CNN broke the Pence story, the outlet’s first article was highly deferential in accepting the explanation from his legal team that the documents were “inadvertently” moved to his home. CNN also cited sources attesting to the “rigorous” document retention practices of Pence’s vice presidential office:
In a letter to the National Archives obtained by CNN, Pence’s representative to the Archives, Greg Jacob, wrote that a “small number of documents bearing classified markings” were inadvertently boxed and transported to the vice president’s home.
”Vice President Pence was unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence,” Jacob wrote. “Vice President Pence understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry.”
While Pence’s vice presidential office in general did a rigorous job while he was leaving office of sorting through and turning over any classified material and unclassified material covered by the Presidential Records Act, these classified documents appear to have inadvertently slipped through the process because most of the materials were packed up separately from the vice president’s residence, along with Pence’s personal papers, the sources told CNN.
The White House is now facing the familiar and dizzying atmospherics of a Washington scandal – including demands for transparency, inquisitions from the press in a tense White House briefing room, questions about what the president knew and when he knew it, and the spectacle of his political enemies piling on.
And there is the haunting fear that grips 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue whenever a special counsel sweeps into view – along with the dreaded possibility that they could uncover some unrelated, but damning area of wrongdoing. Former Biden vice presidential aides – many of whom are now serving in his close-knit White House inner circle – will face the always distracting prospect of testifying under oath.
Similarly, The Associated Press’ reporting on Pence’s document revelation largely accepted his explanation, casting it as evidence of major systemic problems in both the overclassification of documents and officials’ abilities to handle all of them. (Emphasis added.)
While a very different case, the Pence development could bolster the arguments of Trump and Biden, who have sought to downplay the significance of the discoveries at their homes. The presence of secret documents at all three men’s residences further underscores the federal government’s unwieldy system for storing and protecting the millions of classified documents it produces every year.
But in Biden’s case just two weeks ago, the AP said that Biden’s political future was now in “uncertain territory,” and that the story was “beginning to strain his claim to competence.” (For his part, Pence has also been trying to rehabilitate his political image, ahead of a potential run for office, but his future is not being called into question by his document retention practices.)
Pence’s situation now appears to be similar to Biden’s. In both cases, their legal teams self-reported the documents to the government, and have cooperated in the search for and recovery of any additional materials that ought to be in government possession.