Voices: Pence’s documents mishap scrambles the GOP’s efforts to go after Biden

 (Getty Images for The New York Ti)
(Getty Images for The New York Ti)

Republicans had hoped to make hay out of the revelation that President Joe Biden had found classified documents from his vice presidency at an office in Pennsylvania and his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Polling had shown that the public thought the president handled his documents improperly, which could puncture the president’s image ahead of his decision whether to seek re-election. It also provided the perfect chance for Republicans to defend former president Donald Trump by saying that the Justice Department treated Mr Biden differently than Mr Trump.

Republicans also had an opportunity to pick a fight with US Attorney General Merrick Garland appointing a special counsel because then they could say he was circumventing their oversight authority, which is what House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer told reporters before the House adjourned for a district work week.

But CNN’s report that Mike Pence also turned over classified documents to the Justice Department scrambles that narrative. Mr Pence himself is a former Republcian congressman (and his brother is currently a member of the House) who is widely liked by conservatives and seen as much more straight-laced rule-follower than Mr Trump, as evidenced by his decision not to overturn the 2020 election results. If Mr Pence could have mistakenly placed documents marked as classified in his home in Indiana, as well as Mr Biden, then anyone could mistakenly place them.

When I asked House Speaker Kevin McCarthy about it during his gaggle, he tried to draw a distinction, saying that when Mr Pence found his documents, he immediately called Mr Comer, whereas Mr Biden’s case also included notes from when he was a Senator.

“He’s got classified documents when he was a US Senator,” Mr McCarthy told me. “I don’t even understand how that transpires. I do not under a US Senator can take a classified document out of a [Sensitive compartmented information facility] if they’re stuffing it in their pants or somewhere else.”

Similarly, Mr Comer said the House would treat Mr Pence the same way he planned to treat Mr Biden.

“We’ve got to reform the way these documents leave,” he told me. “What the biggest mystery is how Biden ended with some as a Senator and how they ended up in so many, multiple locations. But with respect to Pence, we’re going to treat him the exact same way we’ve treated Biden.”

Senator Marco Rubio, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said that all of the former executives’ having documents concerns him.

“That’s why we’ve been all over them on it,” he told reporters. “We’re operating entirely on press reports, which is an unacceptable place to be as an oversight committee.”

But Democrats are also getting in on it, too. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, had only one response to the revelations about Mr Pence.

“I mean, it’s like, I’m surprised that everybody who’d had one of these positions before wouldn’t have checked their closet,” he told your dispatcher.

In truth, Republicans putting their eggs in the Biden document basket was always likely to blow up in their face. Mr Biden’s document handling, while maybe careless, was never on the level as Mr Trump’s. This is likely why Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of the most mercurial senators who senses shifting political currents and adjusts thusly, told reporters he didn’t think there was anything nefarious going on with regard to the documents.

“You’ve got Trump, you’ve got Pence, you’ve got Biden. The only thing I think you’ll find at my house is a bunch of Chick-fil-A bags on the floor,” he said. “The bottom line is, I don’t know how this happened. I don’t know how this happened. We need to get to the bottom of it. I don’t believe for a minute that Mike Pence is trying to intentionally compromise national security.”