So Joe Biden is finally, officially in trouble for something. While many in the media are eager to point out that Biden’s classified document scandal isn’t as bad in some ways as Trump’s classified document scandal, some realists have admitted that they’re similar enough that there’s probably not a lot to be gained here. And one reason that’s true is that while Biden’s people did quickly call the National Archives to, in effect, turn themselves in once the documents were found, they sat on the findings as far as the public was concerned.
If you’ve watched any of the White House press briefings this week then you already know this has been something the White House press corps has repeatedly brought up. Why did you wait to inform the public until after the election? Why wasn’t the White House as forthcoming with Americans as it was with the bureaucrats?
In the past couple days, both the Washington Post and the NY Times have published deep dives trying to explain why the White House behaved as it did. Even some Democrats agreed the decision to sit on the story was a mistake.
Former senator Doug Jones (D-Ala.) said that the Biden team was right to notify authorities quickly of its discoveries, adding that it was critical to respond appropriately from a legal perspective. Still, he added, the White House could have been more transparent with the public.
“I would have probably opted to do some things a little bit differently,” said Jones, a onetime prosecutor. “When it came the appropriate time to make a statement, give as much facts as you can without jeopardizing the investigation.”
So why did they sit on it? The Post story offers an answer. They thought it would be over quickly and that seemed like a better PR strategy.
Early on, Biden’s attorneys and Justice Department investigators both thought they had a shared understanding about keeping the matter quiet. But they had very different reasons.
The White House was hoping for a speedy inquiry that would find no intentional mishandling of the documents, planning to disclose the matter only after Justice issued its all-clear.
And even when the story finally leaked several weeks later, the White House instinct was to hold back on the facts.
CBS News was the first news organization to learn of the matter, contacting the White House on Jan. 6 to ask about the Penn Biden Center documents. White House officials confirmed the scoop, but since the investigation was ongoing, they decided not to offer any additional details — including the critical information that a second batch of documents had been discovered at Biden’s home.
Today the NY Times published its take on the behind-the-scenes decisions about this potential scandal. The Times points to another top Biden adviser as one of the few people who were in-the-know from the start: Crisis PR specialist Anita Dunn.
The handful of advisers who were aware of the initial discovery on Nov. 2 — six days before the midterm elections — gambled that without going public, they could convince the Justice Department that the matter was little more than a minor, good-faith mistake, unlike former President Donald J. Trump’s hoarding of documents at his Florida estate…
The discussions on how to deal with the matter, at least at the start, were confined to the husband-and-wife pair of Bob Bauer, the president’s top personal attorney, and Anita Dunn, a White House senior adviser; Mike Donilon, the president’s longtime confidant and speechwriter; Mr. Biden’s sister, Valerie Biden Owens; Stuart F. Delery, the White House counsel; and Richard Sauber, a White House lawyer overseeing the response to investigations, according to people familiar with the situation.
If you’re not familiar with Dunn, she was the person behind the war on Fox News during the Obama administration. She’s been in and out of the White House since the start of the Biden administration. She helped come up with the phrase “ultra MAGA” and I strongly suspect she’s the person behind Biden’s border strategy PR, i.e. refusing to admit there’s a crisis and always referring to the situation as a “challenge.”
The Times story suggests that the desire to keep the investigation in the documents quiet came from Biden’s lawyers who were afraid publicizing the situation would make it more likely a special counsel would be appointed. Normally the advice of the lawyers would be at odds with the advice of the communications staff who genuinely think it’s better to get out ahead of scandals, but not in this case.
Once the discovery of the original batch of documents was revealed, Ms. Dunn was adamant that the White House should keep the public information flow to a trickle and focus instead on how different Mr. Biden’s case was from the broader investigation into his predecessor, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Ms. Dunn also stressed the need to underscore the differences between Mr. Biden’s cooperation with the archives and Justice Department and Mr. Trump’s defiance…
In announcing Mr. Hur’s selection, Mr. Garland, who seldom discusses prosecutorial moves not previously disclosed in court filings, offered his own detailed timeline of the department’s involvement in the case, revealing for the first time that the second batch of classified material had been discovered by Mr. Biden’s team on Dec. 20, weeks after the first.
That left the Justice Department in the position of appearing more transparent about the matter than the White House. For the president’s team, that brought immediate blowback as reporters pressed for more answers and Republicans accused the White House of a cover-up.
The DOJ appeared more transparent than the White House because they were more transparent than the White House. It appears there was a cover-up because there was a cover-up. If the story hadn’t leaked, the White House would have gone on saying nothing because that’s how Anita Dunn likes it.
Again, I can’t prove she’s the person behind Biden’s approach to the border but I think there are some obvious similarities. Her approach relies on setting the terms of the debate by withholding information for as long as possible and then spinning whatever leaks where absolutely necessary.
I have to wonder if people in the White House aren’t getting little tired of Dunn’s advice. Granted she helped them bury the border story for many months but ultimately that didn’t fix the problem or avert the crisis. The same is true with regard to the classified documents. She kept it out of the news for a couple months but it still got out and when it did the White House winds up looking very shifty in keeping it quiet for so long.
I can tell you one person who is probably not thrilled about it:
REPORTER: "Did you know?"
KJP: "No I did not know!"
REPORTER: "When did you learn about the documents found at the Penn Center…?"
KJP: "When your team was doing a story on it." pic.twitter.com/v2T7mAUR51
— Townhall.com (@townhallcom) January 17, 2023