January 13, 2023 - 5:00pm

Despite their numerous differences and disagreements, Joe Biden and Donald Trump do have something in common after all: both have a habit of mishandling classified information. 

This week, The White House confirmed that, back in November, some of Biden’s aids discovered classified documents at the president’s office at a think tank in Washington and in his home garage in Wilmington. The files were from Biden’s time as Vice President, and reportedly contained information about Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom. The news comes after Biden and his Democratic allies spent half a year harshly criticising Trump for…his handling of classified documents. 

By all accounts, the way that Biden’s team reacted to their discovery contrasted sharply with the response of Trump’s team. Trump and his aides spent months delaying, obfuscating, and resisting subpoenas from the National Archives to turn over his documents. This obstruction is what eventually led the FBI to search Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago. By comparison, Biden’s team immediately alerted the National Archives to what they had found and handed the files over.

Despite these differences, the news that Biden or someone on his team mishandled sensitive documents is, at best, an indication of carelessness on the current President’s part. The best possible scenario for the president is that someone on his team brought the files to his home and office, and Biden didn’t bother checking what was in there. A much worse scenario would be that the President, at some point, knew about the mishandled documents and didn’t immediately report them. Ultimately, however, the fact that Biden had classified files lying around at all demonstrates a certain amount of negligence.

From a political perspective, even worse for the President than having these documents in the first place is that he looks like a hypocrite. In a September interview with 60 Minutes, when he was asked about the discovery of top secret files at Mar-a-Lago, he said that he wondered “how that could possibly happen” and “how anyone could be that irresponsible.” The fact that Biden’s criticism can be turned on himself is nothing less than a public relations disaster for the President. After months of harshly condemning Donald Trump for storing classified government documents at his home in Mar-a-Lago, Joe Biden is having to eat his words.

Democrats are protesting that there is a false equivalence being made between Biden and Trump. That may be the case. But Trump’s behaviour does not set the legal standard for what is acceptable when it comes to handling classified documents. From a legal perspective, Biden’s actions and culpability deserve to be addressed independently from Trump’s.

On that note, Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate the matter is appropriate. Only with an independent process will we be able to get to the bottom of exactly what happened: how the documents got to Biden’s office and his garage, if there are any more documents lying around, whether Biden knew anything about this, and if any crimes were committed.

Seth Moskowitz is an editor at Persuasion. He blogs at Brain Candy and tweets at @skmoskowitz.