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National Security Experts Question Failure by Two Presidents to Correctly Handle Classified Documents


Two investigations over one major issue: presidents and their handling of classified documents. 

The discovery of such records at President Joe Biden's home and former office, as well as the home of former President Donald Trump, raises a number of questions ranging from whether the overall management of sensitive material is flawed to whether these are instances of user error. 

Ironically, the Biden administration's National Security Council issued a review of the classification system over the summer. Considered to be ongoing, it's meant to examine ways to overhaul the process of determining and managing sensitive information.

"I think both parties could agree that classification is way overused in Washington D.C., there's so much information that the American people should have, that they don't," said The Heritage Foundation's Senior Research Fellow Victoria Coates.

Coates, a former deputy national security advisor, also served as an archivist for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. She told CBN News that while changes do need to be made to the classification system, many people regularly deal with sensitive material without making the mistakes we've seen recently.

"There's a narrative going around that this is sort of the dirty little secret. Everybody knows that happens. Well, that's not true. The vast majority of the folks who have the clearances and the access to this material, treat it with the respect that it deserves, and this is our national security. So I don't think anyone should be given a pass," Coates said.

For example, the correct process for handling material like that found in Biden's possession would have involved separating out the classified documents at the end of his time in the Obama administration and returning them to the agency of origin.

"So if you have a CIA analysis paper, you give it back to the CIA, and it's simply a case of keeping good records. And if then-Vice President Biden had followed standard procedure, he would be deeding his vice presidential papers to an academic institution qualified to handle them," explained Coates.

She pointed out that none of Biden's personal attorneys involved with the recently discovered documents actually have the clearance to be handling them. 

"There are trained professionals both at the Department of Justice and the National Archives who hold the proper clearances. Biden himself has some lawyers such as Bob Bauer, who has the requisite clearances, but for whatever reason, they're not the ones doing the searching," Coates said.

She said that while details about the Justice Department's investigation into the documents can't be disclosed, the lack of transparency from the White House about the initial discovery of the material is concerning. 

"Nobody did anything to publicize it, obviously, before the election, but then the really problematic thing is that with that timeline they appear not to have undergone the secondary search until after it broke in the media," Coates said. "That search should have happened in the days after they found the original documents to ensure that all of this material was properly handled. Instead, we had another six weeks of the box sitting in the garage, when Heaven knows who could have gone through it."

When asked again Tuesday, President Biden ignored questions from reporters, which follows the White House pattern of stonewalling since the news broke about the initial documents and subsequent discoveries. 

Coates warned that it will likely be months before any sort of report on the documents is released, but the subject certainly isn't going away given the two main players could once again be running for president in 2024. 

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