Voices: Biden needs to apologise about the classified documents – those claiming they’re different to Trump’s miss the point

Joe Biden needs to apologise immediately.

He should call the Washington press corps to the East Room of the White House and say that he is sorry.

He should make clear he does not know how classified material was discovered in an office he once used after leaving the vice presidency, but that now, as president, the buck stops with him.

He should then shut up about the matter, at least until the investigation ordered by Attorney General Merrick Garland into what happened, is completed.

What Biden should not do is what he did in Mexico City earlier this week, at a joint press conference with the leaders of Canada and Mexico, and waffle on about how surprised he was, but that he was taking the matter seriously.

He should certainly not add, almost as an afterthought, that he does not know what the contents are as his lawyers “have not suggested I ask what the documents were”.

There will be plenty who think to behave thus would be an act of madness. Why give additional oxygen to a story already being hyped by Republicans as a casebook study of Democratic Party hypocrisy, rather than hoping it just dies down.

Why should Biden even allow the incident involving the discovery of up to 10 classified documents found last November at a DC office in a think tank he once used, be talked about in the same breath as the more than 300 documents, some marked top secret, recovered from Donald Trump’s private residence in Florida last year.

In one way they are correct: no neutral observer can think that either the number of documents involved, or the way they were returned to the National Archives – Biden’s lawyers promptly returned them, while the FBI raided Trump’s house after repeated requests for his cooperation – are of the same scale or circumstance.

Yet it precisely that error – to think they will be viewed and judged neutrally – that Biden and the Democrats are making.

From the moment it was reported by CBS News that the “Biden documents” had been found, Republicans have been going to town yelling foul and demanding answers.

Conservative media has been filled with the likes of Sean Hannity, barely able to suppress his glee, that he can now allege hypocrisy and double standards.

“I think we need to investigate the Bidens non-stop. I’ve been very vocal on impeaching Joe Biden and hopefully, we can get that done in this Congress,” said Georgia Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Trump wrote on social media: “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House.” In the House of Representatives, now led by GOP Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republicans have promised to investigate using one of their committees.

“President Biden has been very critical of President Trump mistakenly taking classified documents to the residence or wherever and now it seems he may have done the same,” said House Oversight Chair James Comer. “How ironic.”

And that is just what is being said in the first few days of the House members taking their seats, with a large portion of hardliners having already displayed the power they wield, and the way they want new Speaker Kevin McCarthy to behave – essentially as a bulldog.

Some will argue that the American people are smart enough to discern an apple from an orange. But this is not a matter of false equivalence or false comparisons. It is about being practical.

We live in politically abrasive times, where news stories are easily distorted and twisted, by both sides of the political aisle. Trump, who has embarked on his third campaign to win the White House, has displayed, repeatedly, a skill at playing on grievances and controlling narratives.

Do we really think as he tours the nation again and speaks to his supporters, he is not going to make use of the revelation about Biden’s documents as another purported example of a biased justice system out to get him. Of course he will.

So Biden can help himself, and try to get ahead of the story, by holding that press conference and saying he is sorry for what has happened and seeking to draw a line under the matter.

That would be smart and tactical and wise.

And an apology from the president is also surely warranted. Joe Biden should not have had classified documents stored in an office drawer, any more than Trump should have filled his basement with packing cases stuffed with such materials.

And saying you are sorry costs nothing.