This revelation pushed the issue of proper handling of documents — an otherwise humble Washington process — into the midst of political debate and revealed an uncomfortable truth: controlling the handling of national secrets. policies intended to be implemented haphazardly among senior officials and rely almost entirely on goodwill.
This has been an on-and-off issue for decades, from the president to cabinet members and staff of multiple administrations all the way back to Jimmy Carter. The issue took on greater significance after President Trump deliberately kept classified material in his Florida mansion and the FBI last year made an unprecedented seizure of thousands of pages of records.
Former officials at all levels of government have been found to have classified documents in their possession and turn them over to authorities at least several times a year, said the people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified. Confidentiality of confidential documents.
While current and former officials involved in handling classified information have clear policies about how such information is reviewed and stored, those policies are sidelined at the highest level. It says that it may be National security officials, secretaries, teams of military aides, and executives themselves who share responsibility for keeping top-level executives informed, bending the rules for convenience, expediency, or sometimes carelessness There is a possibility.
This contrasts with strict procedures followed throughout the broader intelligence community, where mishandling of information can be grounds for dismissal, revocation of security clearances, and even prosecution. am.
“Executives are going to their homes with papers to read. They read them at night and they take them home,” D-Va Senator Tim Kaine said. He contrasted that pattern of high-ranking officials with senators who need to keep sensitive material in secure rooms in the Capitol.
“We can see how this happens,” he added. “Again, every situation is different. They’re all very serious. So how many? How serious? How did you get them? Who had access to them? Supportive And you have to answer the same set of questions about Pence, President Biden, and President Trump.”
On the judicial side, another federal law, the Confidential Information Procedures Act, governs the handling of materials presented before judges in criminal prosecutions and civil cases. Another law deals with foreign intelligence investigations before special tribunals that operate in secret. Both laws are intended to prevent the disclosure of confidential information.
While Trump intended to keep the documents (in apparent disregard for the Presidential Records Act, claiming they were his personal property), he was not the first president to mishandle classified information.
Former President Jimmy Carter said he found classified documents at least once in his home in Plains, Georgia, and returned them to the National Archives, the same person said of the regular occurrence of erroneous documents. did not provide details about the time of discovery.
A Carter Center aide did not provide details when asked about the explanation that Carter found the documents in his home after he resigned in 1981. It will go into effect a few years later, when Ronald Reagan takes office. Before Reagan, presidential records were generally considered private property of the president. Nevertheless, Carter invited the Federal Archives to help the White House organize his records in preparation for eventual repository in his presidential library in Georgia.
The National Archives declined to comment when asked to provide a list of the number of times classified documents have been turned over to the agency by former officials.
Meanwhile, other former senior U.S. officials maintain that they have always handled classified materials appropriately. A spokesman for former Vice President Dick Cheney said he never resigned with classified material and nothing has been found since. Freddy, spokesman for former President George W. Bush Ford told the Associated Press that “as he left the White House, all presidential records, classified or unclassified, were turned over to NARA.” Mentioned.
A spokesperson for President Barack Obama declined to comment, but pointed to a statement released by the National Archives in 2022 that said the agency maintained all of Obama’s records after he stepped down. “I was unaware that the box of presidential records from the Obama administration was gone.” Former President Bill Clinton’s office said, “All of President Clinton’s confidential materials were properly processed in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.” It was handed over to NARA.”
The final day of the presidency is chaotic, with aides sorting through the material their bosses have accumulated over the years to determine what needs to be handed over to the archives and what can be kept. Different teams of individuals are responsible for various office clearances, and maintaining consistent standards can be difficult, officials said.
In Pence’s case, most of the material in the box came from his official residence at the Naval Observatory, where packing was done by military aides rather than staff lawyers. According to Pence’s aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the confidentiality of the find, the other materials came from a drawer in the West Wing’s office. It is not believed to have happened, said a person familiar with the matter.
There were also accusations that officials mishandled documents while they were still working. Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez brought back highly classified documents covering the National Security Agency’s terrorist surveillance and terrorist detainee interrogation programs in the late 2000s. Hillary Clinton has been investigated for mishandling classified information via a private email server he used as Secretary of State.
But officials are rarely punished for these mistakes. Federal law does not allow confidential documents to be stored in unauthorized locations, but it is an indictable offense only if someone is found to have “deliberately” removed the documents from their proper location. This is because
Mishandled documents are often returned with little fanfare or national news coverage. And since the president’s recordkeeping process unfolds in the turmoil of the end of a presidential term and is largely based on good-faith agreements between the archives and the outgoing administration, the reason records are mishandled is Not one.
“The National Archives has historically operated under an honor system with every administration,” said Tim Naftali, the first director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. and have partnerships with all these former presidents and vice presidents.”
The White House attorney’s office declined to comment Tuesday on whether Biden would order a review of how classified documents are handled across the government in response to the latest findings.
The power to change or modify the way classified documents are handled primarily rests with the president. Biden, who is actively under investigation, could be seen as a political move intended to improve his own situation, so he is unlikely to instigate a review or order a change in procedure. low.
Associated Press writers Bill Burrow, Marc Sherman, Kevin Flecking, and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.