Donald Trump and Joe Biden are both under investigation for their management of the White House archives, files as delicate as they are different.
– Commonalities –
In the United States, Congress declared in 1978 that all documents created or received by the President and Vice President in the course of their duties belonged to the United States.
Under this law, at the end of the mandate, all emails, letters, photos, videos and working documents from the White House must be sent to the National Archives, responsible for recording presidential activities for history.
In addition, another law, on espionage, prohibits American agents from keeping documents classified confidential in unauthorized and unsecured places.
Both Joe Biden and Donald Trump appear to have broken these rules, the former at the end of his term as vice president in 2017, the latter upon leaving the presidency in 2021.
Confidential documents, which they should have returned, were indeed found in their possession, in the Mar-a-Lago club for the Republican billionaire, in an old office and in the garage of his Wilmington home for the Democratic president. .
Given their profiles, Justice Minister Merrick Garland entrusted the investigations to two special prosecutors: Jack Smith, appointed in November to handle the Trump case (which also includes investigations into his role in the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021) and Robert Hur, designated Thursday for the Biden component.
– Recalcitrant or cooperative –
The two cases differ firstly in the attitude of the main protagonists.
After Donald Trump’s departure from the White House, the National Archives had to fight to get him to agree to return his files. A year later, they secured the return of 15 entire boxes of documents, including some of great historical value, such as a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Convinced of not having recovered everything, this agency asked in February 2022 to the federal justice to investigate. After several interrogations of members of his entourage and an on-site visit, the federal police (FBI) estimated that the billionaire probably kept other documents hidden in his luxurious Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
Menus of warrants, FBI agents conducted a spectacular search there in August and seized around thirty additional boxes. An examination showed that 18 documents classified as “top secret”, 53 “secret” and 31 “confidential” were in these boxes.
Conversely, the file concerning Joe Biden hatched following a report made by his own lawyers.
On November 2, they were emptying the former Joe Biden offices in Washington, when they found confidential documents – about ten according to the media – in a closed drawer. They immediately transferred them to the National Archives. They immediately informed the Ministry of Justice, which opened a preliminary investigation.
In parallel, the lawyers of the presidency inspected the two private residences of Joe Biden, to check if other documents were not there. On December 20, they told the Justice Department that they had found an additional “small number of confidential documents” in the garage of his Wilmington home. The FBI took possession of it.
– Lines of defense –
Denouncing a “political persecution”, Donald Trump denied having any wrong. “I had a small number of boxes at Mar-a-Lago, which were under the protection of agents and my teams,” he said in particular in October. “They should give them back to me because it’s all mine!”
Conversely, Joe Biden says he “takes his obligations in terms of confidential documents very seriously” but claims to have acted “inadvertently”.