Jammin’ in Joe’s garage
Last updated 1/17/2023 at Noon
A friend of mine here in Sisters once held high military rank that came with serious responsibilities. His job required that he handle sensitive, classified material.
I asked him the other day what would have happened if he kept a tranche of classified documents, say, in an office at his golf resort, or in a garage next to his Corvette.
“You mean after my court-martial?” was his response.
At a minimum, he would have been fired — career over, pension at risk. He might have done time.
Recent incidents of former and sitting Presidents — commanders in chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of America — mishandling classified documents point up double standards that plague our political culture.
Not left versus right, Democrat versus Republican, but a double standard based on status. We like to say that we’re a nation of laws, but people at the top of the food chain seem to be above the law and seldom face real accountability, consequences for acts that would get the rest of us in serious hot water.
At a minimum, a public official — any public official — who mishandles classified materials should be removed from office and barred from serving again in positions of trust. Because, clearly, they aren’t worthy of being trusted with our national security.
These days, even when someone does get busted, the landing is pretty soft. High-flying General David Petraeus had to resign as director of Central Intelligence and was slapped with a misdemeanor conviction for mishandling classified materials, in a scandal that broke because it involved sexual shenanigans with his very attractive biographer. Without all the attendant media attention, the actual crime might well have never come to light — or been swept under the rug.
Petraeus didn’t suffer too much. He landed a cushy university gig, and was in the running in 2016 to become Donald Trump’s Secretary of State. Where he would have been privy to classified materials.
When episodes of bad behavior arise, partisans are quick to absolve “their guy” for the same sins for which they avidly pillory the “other guy.” Those of us who point out this hypocrisy are accused of “whataboutism” or the false equivalence of “both sides do it.”
Except that, well, ummm, both sides do it.
Our own Senator Ron Wyden was at pains to point out “differences in context” between the current classified materials brouhaha regarding President Joe Biden and that surrounding former President Trump. We’re meant to give extra credit for Biden’s own people discovering and turning over errant materials, and cooperating with investigators.
Well, OK, we’ll stipulate that Trump’s behavior was, as usual, egregious and obstructionist, and Biden at least looks like he’s cooperative. And Trump’s case involves a lot more material — as of now.
But the fundamental issue remains: Both men appear to have handled classified materials inappropriately. Both men should be held accountable — to include being barred from running for the office again. But, as always, politics trumps principles.
And it does the President’s defense no favors when one of Biden’s supporters — Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia — throws out the possibility that the classified documents were “planted” in Joe’s garage (and think tank and…). That’s the kind of evidence-free conspiracy theory that would make a real, hardcore MAGAnista proud.
There’s not much to choose between in the monarchical condescension expressed by both Trump and Biden to dismiss their irresponsible behavior. Trump treats the work product of his administration as his personal property, which he can declassify “even by thinking about it.”
The current president offered this piece of dismissive snark in response to a reporter’s pressing on the location of some of the documents his lawyers handed over: “My Corvette is in a locked garage, OK? It’s not like they are sitting in the street.”
That attitude makes it pretty hard to believe him when he says that, “People know I take classified documents, classified information seriously.”
Isn’t it past time to stop tolerating politics-over-principle, and insist on accountability from all of our public officials, whether we voted for them or not? Shouldn’t we be holding our leaders to the same standard we expect of the rank and file who do the real work of the nation?