Jan 25, 2023 - Politics & Policy

GOP strategists: Biden and Pence classified document revelations a "gift for Trump"

 Former U.S. President Donald Trump greets people as he arrives for a New Years event at his Mar-a-Lago home on December 31, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida.

Former President Trump greets people as he arrives for a New Years event at his Mar-a-Lago home on Dec. 31, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Republican strategists see former President Trump emerging as the political winner from the ongoing string of classified document discoveries.

Why it matters: The new revelations involving President Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence could dilute the public attention and understanding about the ongoing investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified documents.

  • "In terms of the political perception, this is a gift for Trump 1,000% over," GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who was a Trump White House and campaign surrogate for the 2020 election, told Axios.

What they're saying: "This neutralizes the issue, both within the Republican primary and in the event Trump emerges as the nominee for the 2024 general election," said Ken Spain, a GOP consultant and former communications director for National Republican Congressional Committee.

  • The series of document discoveries may also normalize the issue for Republican voters who supported Trump, but had doubts after the midterm elections.
  • "To the extent voters sympathetic to Trump were looking elsewhere because of the multitude of recent political vulnerabilities that have come up post-midterm election, I think it gives them pause," Spain said.

The big picture: There are key differences in the three cases, including the number of classified documents and the leaders' actions after the documents were discovered — distinctions that could carry significance for potential legal ramifications.

  • Biden has cooperated with the investigation into his handling of the documents, while Trump sought to block efforts to gain access to the documents as part of a grand jury subpoena.

As part of that cooperation in the investigations, both Biden and Pence invited the review of documents found at locations connection to them.

  • Pence, for instance, engaged lawyers on Jan. 16 to review documents at his personal home "out of an abundance of caution," Greg Jacob, Pence's counsel, wrote in a Jan. 18 letter to the National Archives.
  • The FBI probe into Trump's handling of government records has zeroed in on whether the former president criminally obstructed the investigation.

Despite their differences, Republicans may draw equivalency between the investigations into the public officials' handling of the documents, O’Connell said.

  • "What the Republicans, and particularly the Republican base, is very concerned about is what they call a double standard," he noted.
  • "The idea that Mar-a-Lago's raided ... [compared to] the way that Joe Biden is being treated, to them that is very frustrating," O’Connell added.
  • Trump, even before documents were discovered at Pence’s home in Indiana, slammed what he said is a "two-tiered justice system," where Biden was getting the "white glove treatment."

Zoom out: Despite their differences, the additional discoveries may create another political headache for Biden, who is weighing a likely 2024 run.

  • "When the probe is done, the Biden case will wind up being one of unintended mistakes — carelessness but not willful defiance of the rules or law," David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to former President Obama, told the New York Times.
  • "The Trump case is much different and more serious. But in the court of public opinion, those lines may now be blurred," he said.

The bottom line: Trump is still on an "island on his own in terms of the obstruction in which he engaged," Bradley Moss, a national security attorney, told Axios.

Go deeper... What we know about Biden's classified documents investigation

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