Julie McDonald Commentary: Why Can’t Elected Politicians Protect Classified Documents?


One of the federal government’s primary roles as outlined in the U.S. Constitution is national security, establishing and maintaining a military, so it stands to reason our leaders would do everything they could to protect it.

Or so you’d think.

Now President Joe Biden, like his predecessor former President Donald Trump, has left classified documents in places they don’t belong — in his former Washington, D.C., office and in the garage at his private home in Delaware.

After eight years in the vice presidential office under President Barack Obama, the Biden team packed up classified paperwork that should have gone to the National Archives for security and eventual release to the public.

Although his legal team is cooperating with the Department of Justice to put the paperwork where presidential records belong — at the National Archives — it never should have happened.

In early November, I wrote a column condemning politicians for sloppy mishandling of classified public documents — President Bill Clinton’s former National Security Advisor Sandy Burger, who removed classified papers from the National Archives by stuffing them into his socks and pants; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used her personal email for classified work, irresponsibly exposed classified information in a private email system that could be easily hacked, and failed to retain copies of those emails; and Trump for taking 13 boxes of restricted and even top-secret documents to Mar-a-Lago without regard for how those papers could jeopardize national security if they wound up in the wrong hands.

Now we can add President Biden to the list.

One stark difference stands out, though. Biden’s team handed over the documents to the National Archives and informed the Department of Justice. Trump fought for eight months to keep the documents and defied a government subpoena to return them.

Regardless, I have to wonder whether 20th century politicians were as sloppy in the handling of classified documents, leaving them available for enemies of the country to access?

Maybe they were, but we just didn’t hear about it.

Is it too much to ask our politicians to take better care of the public trust we’ve given them? It shouldn’t be. Transparency in government is crucial to democracy.

Special counsels for the Justice Department are investigating both Trump and Biden for the “possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records.”

I don’t know what they’ll discover, but the investigations never should have been necessary.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.