In today’s Morning Shots: Biden’s doc problem, the January 6 security failures, more attacks on free speech, a farewell to savvy reporter, and a chat between two political greybeards.
But before we get started: a hearty welcome to Press Pass by Joe Perticone a newsletter from The Bulwark that will take you behind the scenes in the Capitol and on the campaign trail. Twice a week, he’ll be lifting the veil on how Washington works, doesn’t work, and is downright weird.
Check out his first offering: “Here Is What’s Next for George Santos Now That He’s Officially in Congress.”
Also, ICYMI: Introducing Just Between Us—the new home for Tuesday’s “Secret Podcast” with Charlie and Mona. Each week, we get together for a candid chat on the day’s news out of Washington and around the globe. Exclusively for Bulwark+ members.
About those docs
It will surprise no one who reads this newsletter that Republicans have pounced on the news that Joe Biden apparently also took some classified docs with him when he left the vice presidency.
Among the items from Joe Biden’s time as vice president discovered in a private office last fall are 10 classified documents including US intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has received a preliminary report on the documents inquiry, a law enforcement source said, and now faces the critical decision on how to proceed, including whether to open a full-blown criminal investigation.
Once again, if you are expecting calmer heads and nuanced takes to prevail here, you haven’t been paying attention, have you?
Of course the biggest question is what this means for the prosecution of Donald Trump, who absconded to Mar-a-Lago with his own stash of secrets.
Over at the Dispatch, Nick Catoggio takes a dark view, writing that “now that Team Biden has splashed into a classified documents scandal of its own, it seems likely to me that Trump will be let off the hook entirely.” And he notes:
The one thing that could be counted on to drive wavering Republicans back into his corner in this matter has come to pass. They’ve been handed a “libs do it too” tu quoque on a silver platter.
Of course, the cases are… not really the same thing at all. But that may not matter.
Here is how the debate is playing out — point and counter-point.
POINT: The Cases are Very Different
A handy guide for those of you who like distinctions:
And this from Dem-affiliated Congressional Integrity Project:
As usual, Philip Bump has the best explainer:
But there’s no indication at this point either that the scale of information withheld from the government is as large or — more importantly — that Biden or his team endeavored to hide the documents from the Justice Department. There was no affidavit signed by Biden lawyers claiming that the closet at the Penn Biden Center no longer contained any classified documents before such documents were uncovered. There was no effort by Biden to argue publicly that he had given the government everything it wanted even though he hadn’t; in fact, there’s no indication the government was even looking for these documents in the first place.
The NYT also explains (in a four-byline story):
But while Mr. Trump tried to suggest a parallel, the circumstances of the Biden discovery as described appeared to be significantly different. Mr. Biden had neither been notified that he had official records nor been asked to return them, the White House said, and his team promptly revealed the discovery to the archives and returned them within a day.
“The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the archives,” Richard A. Sauber, a special White House counsel, wrote in the statement. “Since that discovery, the president’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden administration documents are appropriately in the possession of the archives.”
By contrast, in 2021 the archives repeatedly asked Mr. Trump to turn over large numbers of documents it had determined were missing. He put the agency off for months, then allowed it to retrieve 15 boxes of material in early 2022, including scores of classified documents, but it was later discovered that he kept more.
Yes, yes, yes. But, but, but….
COUNTERPOINT: Distinctions are for cucks
Still, whatever the legal questions, as a matter of political reality, the discovery will make the perception of the Justice Department potentially charging Mr. Trump over his handling of the documents more challenging. As a special counsel, Mr. Smith is handling that investigation, along with one into Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and the Jan. 6 attack on Congress, under Mr. Garland’s supervision.
Moreover, the discovery will fuel the fires on Capitol Hill, where Republicans who have just taken the House majority were already planning multiple investigations of the Biden administration, including the decision to have the F.B.I. search Mar-a-Lago.
Exit take: It’s possible to hold two ideas in your head at the same time: (1) The Biden doc case is very different from the Trump case, but also (2) it is a real blow to the prosecution, and a political nightmare for the Biden White House. Because life, and politics are unfair. But you knew that.
When Bill met Jim
In the latest edition of Conversations with Bill Kristol, James Carville has some spicy Cajun thoughts about our political moment. very much worth your time.
On Biden’s decision about 2024
CARVILLE: Well, right now it’s pretty clear that he [Biden] intends to run, but you can always change your mind. And I think the age issue is going to be huge. I’ll point out that Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jim Clyburn, all resigned their posts. All of them are younger than Biden would be at the end of his second term, probably younger than mid-second term….
He's got to consider the age issue because everybody else considers it. I'm 78, I'm like, “Do I think I could do this job seven years from now?" Couldn't do it, couldn't have done it seven years ago. And it's something that he's going to have to deal with. And it's not a gotcha question….
I just think that it's me being 78, and people say to me, "Why don't you go run this campaign?" The only thing I can run in my life is my mouth! Go get somebody else.
On Trump’s future
CARVILLE: He is done. After all this obsession, of all these years of him occupying the front part of your mind, when you think about it, you just wonder how fast it’s going to be before he goes to jail. He’s not going to be the Republican nominee at all. We saw what the post-Trump Republican Party looks like. Just go back and look at that Speaker’s race. This is not like, “Oh, thank God, Brent Scowcroft has walked back through the door and everything is going to be just like it was before.” No, it’s not. That’s not going to happen.
And my Democratic friends and press friends are in a panic. I said, “Don’t worry, you’ll probably get something crazy.” Because Trump was good for business. He kept everybody on cable TV, everybody had a column they could write, everybody could start an organization. And there’s a lot of interest in keeping Trump around, but I don’t think the voters want him around much more. And I think increasingly Republican voters would like to have somebody new and younger.
On handicapping the Republican primary field
CARVILLE: I'd say DeSantis would be slightly overestimated. Underestimated, I'd say Brian Kemp. Now, Cruz, Cotton, Josh Hawley, maybe. DeSantis, he's out in front for a long time. And you know in politics, the longer that you’re hanging out there, people start to smell odors. And trust me, the Cruz, Hawley, Cotton tripartite pack, they don’t like DeSantis….and DeSantis, unlike a Bill Clinton or even a George W. Bush, he’s not a people person, and it’s well-documented. And that counts in politics, particularly if you’re going to be out there for a long time and you have a lot of party leaders and things that you need for these primaries. That’s a skill that he does not possess. You don’t have to be a hell of a fellow, a good old boy, to be effective at governance, but it does help. And he's no such thing.
[Kemp] would be a little different in [having taken on Donald Trump]. And he's got a pretty damn good story to tell in terms of Georgia and his conservative values and everything. I'm not saying that I think he's going to be a nominee, but if you're asking for the “underprice, I'm going in to win on an eight-to-one horse,” I'll take this one at eight-to-one. That's what it is. And he's very presentable. I don't know if that's a Southern word. I'm sure it's got some negative... Some college campus doesn't like it, but he makes a good impression.
You can watch/listen to the whole thing here.
Blake Hounshell, RIP
Blake was a smart, savvy, hard-working reporter, and our conversations were always lively and thought-provoking. Tributes are pouring in, and Politico’s Playbook has a great roundup this morning.
Most of you reading this newsletter didn’t know Blake Hounshell, but all of you were influenced by him.
He nurtured and mentored dozens of young journalists who now populate virtually every significant news organization. He plucked brilliant academics from obscurity and turned them into influential writers. He shaped the world of online political news, newsletters and social media for over a decade at Foreign Policy, POLITICO and The New York Times. He put together the current incarnation of Playbook. He helped create POLITICO Magazine. He taught beat reporters how to become longform storytellers. He relentlessly spotted and recruited new talent. He was a terrific reporter with a rare breadth of knowledge — just go read his archive of stories over the last two years at the Times.
1. Why the January 6th Mob Wasn’t Stopped in Time
Must-read deep dive by Amanda Carpenter on the security failures at the Insurrection.
The main takeaway: The January 6th security lag—the fact that it took more than three hours for the National Guard to arrive on Capitol Hill and secure the grounds—can largely be attributed to three factors: Washington bureaucracy, a backlash to the militarized response to Lafayette Square in June 2020, and concerns over how Trump might use the military for his political purposes.
2. Perils to Free Speech from Woke and Anti-Woke
From Hamline University to Florida school libraries, writes Cathy Young, we are seeing outrage and censorship, from both the left and right.
In Escambia County, “anti-woke” legislation is being weaponized as a tool of censorship that comes primarily from outside educational institutions. At Hamline University, “woke” ideology is being weaponized as a tool of censorship from within. Meanwhile, reports on the left-wing” peril to free speech are being used to push a red-state crackdown on “wokeness,” and reports on right-wing attempts to use the government to bully “woke” institutions into submission are being used to dismiss entirely valid concerns about social justice bullies. The vicious cycle will go on until more people are willing to criticize their own.
“If there was no Trump, there would be no Bolsonaro in Brazil. And if there was no invasion of the Capitol, there wouldn’t have been the invasion we saw yesterday,” said Guga Chacra, a commentator for Brazil’s largest television network, who lives in New York and tracks politics in both countries. “Bolsonarismo tries to copy Trumpism, and Bolsonaro supporters in Brazil try to copy what Trump supporters do in the United States.”
We Back (some of) The Blue!
While I agree that finding classified documents in Biden's office at Penn is a political headache, there's no basis for the claim that it in any way affects the prosecution of Trump for the Mar-a-Lago hoard.
As of right now, the MAL case is being handled by Special Prosecutor Jack Smith. The Penn Biden documents are being handled by a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Chicago - at the request of AG Garland. Two separate cases which will be decided on their individual merits.
The elected Rs will have a field day doing the False Equivalency Shuffle, but that's always their M.O. regardless of the facts. Remember when they claimed that because 1 or 2 Democrats had objected to presidential election certifications in the past it was the same as 2/3 of the elected republicans objecting in 2020 AFTER an insurrection? 1-2-cha-cha-cha.
FTR, it's my opinion that any mishandling of classified information is wrong. End of. Whether the mishandling is a misdemeanor or rises to the level of a crime depends on the facts. In the Trump case, we have ample evidence of willfulness and intent indicating a crime. So far, in the Biden case, it's looking like inadvertence so not a crime.
What both cases make abundantly clear is that we need much stronger controls on who has access to classified material and stricter tracking. It's also clear that the National Archives needs to be involved in securing presidential records the moment election results are clear and that NOTHING should leave the West Wing without clearance by the National Archives first.
You watch. This thing could be great for Biden - Jim Jordan and his crew of crazies gorging on this nothing burger leaves less time to go after Hunter. It also requires the Republicans to acknowledge what Trump did was wrong, which so far they refuse to do. If Biden were a three dimensional chess kind of guy I’d even think he engineered the whole thing.