In the movie classic “Three Days of the Condor,” John Houseman played a weathered spymaster who spoke of the good old days after the Great War “before we knew enough to number them.” When a subordinate asked if he missed “that kind of action,” Houseman responds dryly, “Nope. I miss that kind of clarity.”
The Democrats may soon have the same lament. We have too many scandals to number, but what they will miss most after the discovery of highly classified documents in the president’s former private office is the clarity. With the discovery, Democrats have lost the clarity and separation with Trump. There are clear differences in the two scandals, but those differences could be lost in the echo of Biden’s own words on the mishandling of classified material.
Last year, President Biden was asked by CBS’ Scott Pelley on “60 Minutes,” “When you saw the photograph of the top secret documents laid out on the floor at Mar-a-Lago, what did you think to yourself looking at that image?”
Biden seemed to struggle to control his disgust: “How that could possibly happen, how one anyone could be that irresponsible. And I thought what data was in there that may compromise sources and methods.”
Washington is in full spin control with pundits who previously said that even a misdemeanor conviction of Trump should bar him from ever running again for federal office.
Again, there are distinctions, but we still do not know the full facts, including whether additional classified material has been previously returned or whether additional material may be located in other offices. Nevertheless, there is no allegation of false statements or obstruction.
What is most striking is how this could have easily been far, far worse if the Bidens had gotten their way on the alternative office that was discussed following their departure from government. Rather than the Penn Center, their effective landlord would have been Chinese.
For those of us who have followed the Biden influence peddling scandal, one of the benefits that Joe Biden was supposed to receive from Chinese associates was an office that he would use regularly.
In 2017, Hunter Biden asked that keys be made for his new “office mates,” listing his father, Joe Biden, Jill Biden and his uncle, Jim Biden. He said that they planned to share the space with Gongwen Dong, whom he described as an “emissary” for Chairman Ye Jianming — the chairman of CEFC Chinese Energy Co. Hunter Biden also asked for set of keys of Gongwen Dong. The manager was even asked to change the names on the front door to include Joe and Jill Biden.
The arrangement appears to have fallen to the wayside with other aspects of the Chinese deals. Instead, the Bidens found another source at the University of Pennsylvania to cover their office needs.
What is not known is whether some of this classified material was relevant to Biden’s book and his lectures on diplomacy, raising the possibility that he worked with the documents on computers or discussed them with third parties. In the meantime, they apparently sat in a closet, easy pickings for any intelligence service.
While the media continues to dismiss the influence peddling investigation as, in the words this weekend of NBC’s Chuck Todd, a “personal” attack, it is far more serious as a form of corruption due to an array of dangers from such access. The millions given to Hunter Biden came from a variety of foreign sources, including some coming from figures tied to foreign intelligence. This money not only gained influence but access to the Bidens.
Hunter himself stated that foreign intelligence used hotel rooms to steal his files. A videotape purportedly shows Biden claiming that one of his laptops was stolen by Russians for blackmail purposes.
Putting aside the lack of media interest in Biden’s claim, there is no information on any investigation by the FBI that blackmail material may have been acquired on the Bidens.
The danger of influence peddling is that it is not only the preferred avenue for corruption in Washington, but it often allows dangerous levels of access to targeted leaders.
Even if the public dodged this danger on the Chinese-funded office, it was not due to any lack of effort by the Bidens. The question now is how the public can feel confident that the FBI will show the same vigor in investigating the Bidens as it did Trump.
Attorney General Merrick Garland knows that many citizens no longer trust the government and his current position will only deepen those misgivings. There is growing unease over the litany of controversies over political bias at the FBI, including calls for a new “Church Committee” to look into reforms.
At the same time, Garland has maintained an incomprehensible position in refusing to appoint a special counsel to investigate the Biden influence peddling controversy and other issues. He has done so despite clear evidence that the president had lied in denying any knowledge of his son’s foreign dealings and repeated references to the President getting a possible cut or benefits (including the Chinese-funded office) from the deals.
Garland’s position now borders on the comical. He announced that he was compelled to appoint a special counsel on the Mar-a-Lago and other possible offenses by Trump after he officially became a candidate for the 2024 presidential election. At the time, some of us noted that Biden is actually the president but Garland was steadfastly refusing to make such an appointment.
Now Biden stands accused of the same underlying offense as Mar-a-Lago. While there have not been false statement or obstruction claims raised, it is unclear what allegations will emerge. More importantly, the offense of unlawfully removing and storing classified information is the same. Yet, Garland again refused to appoint a special counsel and will keep the matter within the DOJ rank-and-file.
Biden can count on every possible consideration and accommodation from the media. The public is used to that. However, Garland will undermine both investigations by continuing to block the appointment of a special counsel into Biden and his family.
The Biden discovery will complicate the narrative for many in Washington, particularly those who previously took the position that knowing possession alone justifies a criminal charge. When added to the Hillary Clinton destruction of tens of thousands of emails and use of unsecure private servers, Garland may be creating the greatest credibility crisis for the Justice Department in decades. It is due his framing of these investigations.
It is all part of the incredible shrinking Merrick Garland. At a time that leadership is demand, Garland is again evading his most difficult obligation to show total independence from his president in seeking both the full facts and full accountability in a scandal. Otherwise, he will fuel the mistrust over the treatment of the two scandals and many more, beyond the president, and future generations will likely ask “how anyone could be that irresponsible.”