Politicians keep classified files, a decades-old problem

The issue of elected officials mishandling sensitive documents, which has ensnared both President Biden and his predecessor, Donald Trump, dates back decades under President Jimmy Carter.

Former Vice President Mike Pence became the latest senior official to hold classified records when he confirmed on Tuesday that documents marked secret had been found at his home in Indiana.

Concerns about the sloppy handling of the documents dominated headlines for months after the FBI recovered documents from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last August.

Beginning Nov. 2, classified documents were found at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Del. and at the Penn Biden Center in Washington.​​

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed special advocates to investigate cases involving Biden and Trump.

Boxes of materials and documents are removed from the Eisenhower Executive Office building at the end of the Trump administration on January 14, 2021.
PA

Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, in Plains, Georgia on January 23, 1981, at the end of his administration.
Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalyn, in Plains, Georgia on January 23, 1981, at the end of his administration.
PA

But they weren’t the first presidents to grapple with the issue.

Former President Jimmy Carter has at least once found classified documents at his home in Plains, Georgia, and turned them over to the National Archives and Records Administration, which holds presidential records, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

It is not known when the objects were found.


Former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on November 18, 2022. Classified documents were found at the resort last August.
Former President Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago on November 18, 2022. Classified documents were found at the resort last August.
PA

President Biden at the White House on January 24.  Classified documents were discovered at his home in Delaware and in an office he once used in Washington, D.C.
President Biden at the White House on January 24. Classified documents were discovered at his home in Delaware and in an office he once used in Washington, D.C.
ZUMAPRESS.com

A Carter Center aide did not provide further details of the discovery at Carter’s home.

Carter left the White House in January 1981.

A representative for former President Barack Obama told the Post that all classified documents from his administration were submitted to the National Archives after he left office and the agency still retains custody of them. The spokesperson did not say whether Obama’s files were rechecked for any sensitive information following the controversies involving Trump, Biden and Pence.

Spokespersons for other former presidents — the late George HW Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush — confirmed that their records had also been turned over to the National Archives, as required by law, PKBNEWS reported.


Classified documents have been found at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana.
Classified documents have been found at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana.
AFP via Getty Images

Former officials serving at all levels of government come into possession of classified documents and turn them over to federal authorities several times a year, a person familiar with the matter told the AP.

While there are definite processes on how to review and store records, these policies are sometimes ignored by national security officials, secretaries, and military aides out of convenience, expediency, or even negligence.

There is a difference in how the intelligence community deals with the mishandling of these documents, where penalties can include dismissal, revocation of security clearances or prosecution.


Hillary Clinton has come under scrutiny for mishandling classified documents on her private email server when she was secretary of state.
Hillary Clinton has come under scrutiny for mishandling classified documents on her private email server when she was secretary of state.
PA

“Executives come and go to their houses with documents and read them. They read them at night, they bring them back,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told the AP, noting that top Senate aides are required to keep classified documents in secure rooms in the Capitol.

“I can see how it happens,” Kaine said. “But again, every situation is different. They are all very serious. So how much ? How serious? How did you get them? Who had access to it? Are you cooperative? And the same set of questions must be answered with respect to Pence and with President Biden and President Trump.

Federal laws govern the handling, retention, and distribution of classified documents, but they are rarely enforced. Hillary Clinton has been investigated for keeping classified documents on her private email server when she was secretary of state in the Obama administration – a practice that has become one of the main problems of the 2016 presidential race.​​

Former George W. Bush Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was also investigated for mishandling sensitive records, but was not prosecuted.

Although federal law prohibits the storage of classified documents in unauthorized locations, it can only be prosecuted if the person is found to have “knowingly” removed the files from an appropriate location.

Sometimes mishandled documents are returned without causing national media coverage, according to the report.

“The National Archives has always worked on an honor system with any administration,” Tim Naftali, the first director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum, told the AP. “They work for the president and the vice president and they have partnerships with all of these past presidents and vice presidents.”

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