Classified Documents Found in Possession of Trump, Biden, and Pence

By Ethan Montague

The 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, made headlines when the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) discovered classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, from his time in the White House in January. Many were outraged, but the public learned later that President Joe Biden would soon be in the news for the same reason, having retained classified documents dating back to his time as Vice President. And former Vice President Mike Pence, would join them in this scandal just a few weeks later. 

Which recent White House leaders don’t have classified documents hidden away?

Reports indicate that none of former VPs Quayle, Gore, or Cheney still have documents not authorized to be in their possession. And the same goes for former Presidents Carter, Bush, and Obama. But with the FBI cracking down on the matter, now having searched Trump, Biden, and Pence’s homes and offices, it remains to be seen if this will stay true. 

President Biden was found to have classified documents at a Washington think tank, where he had a private office when he was Vice President, giving him the distinction of being the only one of the three to have documents outside their home. It is unclear who, if anyone, at the think tank had access or knew about the documents. The FBI then searched Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and found another stash of documents in a search that lasted 13 hours. 

Finally, the FBI searched Biden’s home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware where they did not find any classified documents. Biden had repeatedly criticized Trump over the classified documents prior to his own scandal.

In the case of Pence, documents were discovered this January, at Pence’s Indiana home from his time as VP. Pence’s lawyers found the documents, which were sealed with tape leading investigators to believe they had remained unopened since his departure from office. 

Upon finding the documents, his legal team immediately reached out to the National Archives to make them aware of the situation. The National Archives are an independent branch of the executive government, tasked with preserving and documenting important government and historical records. 

Pence has repeatedly denied having classified documents. Pence was asked as recently as August, following the Trump raid of Mar-a-Lago, if he had classified documents by the Associated Press stating, “No, not to my knowledge.” 

Trump himself weighed in on the matter in a post on Trump’s social media site, Truth Social. “He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life,” Trump continued, “Leave him alone!!!”

It is unclear if Trump is serious or teasing as Trump has repeatedly criticized Pence over Pence’s certification of the 2020 election believing “Mike did not have the courage to act.” Trump still claims Pence had the power to decertify state election results while Pence vehemently disagrees, leading to a falling out.

The constitution does give the VP a role in certifying votes but it is believed to be ceremonial and was never used in this way. Congress has since codified it into law that it is strictly ceremonial.

It is possible that the hasty departure of the Trump administration played a role in Pence’s scandal. With ongoing legal challenges and then President Trump’s insistence that he won the 2020 election and would be staying for a second term, the administration was ordered to behave as if they would not be leaving the White House. This left Pence and others very little time to pack up and prepare to depart and was further impacted by the chaos left behind from the Jan. 6 Capitol protest, then turned into a violent riot, leaving a host of other issues for the administration to deal with.

Trump was the first of the three to have documents found, believed to be first found by investigators since early January 2022, leading to him being raided at his Mar-a-Lago home in August. At the time President Biden, on 60 Minutes, expressed shock over the situation, wondering “How could anyone be that irresponsible?” Biden did also note that it would be on the Department of Justice to deal with the case, as opposed to himself.

Trump appears to have a much greater number of classified documents, reportedly 300 total, than Biden or Pence. Why didn’t he just declassify them while President? 

The President has the ability to do so, but it does not appear that he took the steps to do so, despite his claim he can declassify the docs “by thinking about it.” 

The legal process for declassifying documents does not give the President power to declassify documents by thinking about it. 
Biden, Trump, and Pence are all believed to be running for President in 2024. Trump and Biden have already claimed they will do so, with Trump the first contender to formally launch a campaign.

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