Two old men spill America’s secrets

US president Joe Biden in his classic 1967 Corvette Stingray sports car, a wedding gift from his father, that is in the eye of the raging storm over classified documents found in his garage (File photo) 

The probability of the scandal over Top Secret documents dating back to the Barack Obama presidency blowing up on the face of the then vice-president — and incumbent president — Joe Biden is rather low.

That is because Biden is a 900-pound guerrilla who spent 46 years in the corridors of power in Washington, DC, and is skilled enough to manipulate the American political system. 

The manner in which he wangled the nomination as his party’s candidate in the 2016 presidential election bears eloquent testimony to his manipulative skill. Already, a campaign is afoot running down the gravity of classified documents being found at his Delaware home and a Washington office he once used. 

The Atlantic magazine, which is a flag carrier of the present  administration, has already concluded on the basis of the scanty details available on the case that “only the most superficial parallel can be drawn between Biden’s possession of these documents and [Donald] Trump’s conduct relating to the documents held at Mar-a-Lago.”

Equally, in an ingenious commentary, a Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution (which is wired into the US establishment), Benjamin Wittes has written in Lawfare that “Right now, all we really know is that a relatively small amount of classified material from the Obama era has been found where it wasn’t supposed to be on three occasions and in three locations associated with the period between Biden’s vice presidency and his presidency… But that does not mean it is likely to blossom as a criminal case. Indeed, it’s a most unpromising criminal case…. And as to the symmetry with the Mar-a-Lago investigation? Sometimes optical illusions are just optical illusions.” 

Clearly, these spin doctors are knowingly distracting attention from the obvious — the generic nature of the crime itself — with a view to absolve Biden, while at the same time pressing ahead with the crucifixion of Trump, if possible.

There is hardly any curiosity as to what is actually in those documents. Early revelations — sources have told CNN and the New York Times — that the first set of 10 classified documents found in November in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center think tank in Washington included briefing materials on Ukraine from Biden’s time as vice-president. It is indeed a topic of great contemporaneity. 

President Obama was a novice in foreign and security policies. Biden on the other hand was a senator for 36 years before Obama was elected as president, and much of that time on the Foreign Relations Committee, either as chairman or ranking minority member. Unsurprisingly, Obama assigned to Biden a portfolio that included Latin America, Afghanistan, Iraq and Ukraine, which demanded political skulduggery rather than diplomatic skill — something Biden revelled in.  

Much has been reported about the role of Victoria Nuland, Undersecretary of State in the present administration, in navigating the coup and regime change in Ukraine in 2014, but her mentor at that time was none other than Biden who played a hands-on role in the transition in Kiev to a new set-up incorrigibly hostile toward Russia.

Between 2014 and 2016, over there full years, Biden took to the sleaze and venality in Ukrainian politics like a fish to water. Allegations have appeared from time to time — that he wielded immense clout with the new elite in Kiev, who of course heavily depended on American patronage, which enabled his family members to make massive financial gains.

An NBC report in May last year already  noted, “should Republicans take control of Congress, as seems likely, they will use their subpoena power to try to find and highlight any financial connections between father and son.” 

One of the first things that the Republicans have done this month after seizing control of the House of Representatives has been to kickstart a formal investigation into the allegations against Hunter Biden, the president’s son.

However, the US political culture reeks with cynicism, hypocrisy and doublespeak and It can be safely ruled out that either side of the American political divide — Democrats and Republicans — would really care to hold a torchlight on the 2014 regime change in Ukraine, which has led to the sequence of events that has brought matters to the brink of a world war. 

The paradox is that if at all there is crime in these acts on the part of Trump and Biden, that is not in compromising state secrets but in the very content of these documents. For, the real victims of the crime are the population of Ukraine who have gone through immense suffering and the American people who are in the dark that the US foreign policies have played such havoc to yet another  hapless nation.

While the secrets that lie buried in these documents are probably well-known to the world community, especially Europeans who were actually complicit in the crime — and Russians of course who were a mute witness– it is the American people who were kept in the dark about what the political class was upto, who planned wars as policy, the military-industrial complex, etc. 

Therefore, the contents of these documents do not seem to matter. At any rate, the US’ proxy war against Russia enjoys bipartisan consensus and will continue regardless of this hiccup. And he will continue to frog-march the Europeans in the killing fields of Ukraine, till his agenda is fulfilled. The symbiotic relationship between Biden and Zelensky is self-evident, too. 

That said, however, in the American public perception, both these politicians — Trump and Biden — appear to have mishandled government secrets and now have a special counsel looking deeper into what they did wrong. Trump is culpable as under the Presidential Records Act, White House records are supposed to go to the National Archives once an administration ends and the regulations require that such files be stored securely.

Biden’s crime is even more serious because he was not even the president (who after all has the power to declassify documents) when he removed the papers from the White House to his private garage.

Arguably, Trump was not fully cooperative. But then, the two-month gap between the first Biden discovery — days before the midterm elections in November — and the news being made public in January raises awkward questions for the president about transparency and an attempted cover-up.

Again, while Biden accused Trump of being “totally irresponsible,” his own excuse today is that he was “surprised” there were sensitive documents at his former office. He was visibly on the back foot explaining that the second find alongside his prized Corvette was in “a locked garage. OK? So it’s not like they’re sitting out in the street.”

Neither of these two old men nearing 80 — and, come to think of it, one of them may well be America’s next president — is convincing. Therefore, the issue could become a continuing political headache for both, as they launch their respective campaigns for the November 2024 election.

That is, as Larry Sabato, the best–selling author of books on American politics and one of the country’s most respected political analysts, told Guardian newspaper, “In the public mind, now they will say, ‘Well, a pox on both your houses. You’re both guilty. Shame on you both.’ It’s over.”