The Irish Times view on Joe Biden’s secret documents

The discovery of classified documents at US president’s home has given encouragement to Republicans

Four months ago US president Biden was calling predecessor Donald Trump “irresponsible” for his mishandling of classified documents. Now Biden, like Trump, faces embarrassing inquiries about his own handling of state secrets. Friday’s further discovery of classified papers in the president’s home in Wilmington is fresh material for the special counsel, Robert Hur, appointed by the Republican-controlled House to investigate the president.

All 10 American presidencies since 1973 have faced investigation by a special counsel or independent prosecutor, except one: Barack Obama whose term – and Biden’s as vice president – is widely seen as a model of probity and rectitude.

To say Republicans are delighted by Biden’s stumbles would be a gross understatement. The opening up of this new front against the president takes some of the heat from Trump and helps to discredit Biden as he prepares to launch his bid for re-election in 2024.

It matters little in politics that the two presidents behaved very differently. Trump appears to have intentionally taken hundreds of classified documents, boasting that he kept the folders marked “classified” or “confidential” as “cool keepsakes.” He said, “It’s not theirs; it’s mine,” and defied a subpoena to return them, arguing at another stage that he had personally declassified them all. Biden handed over to the Justice Department all the documents found and offered to allow the search of his home. By all accounts the much smaller volume of papers, some of which date back to his time in the Senate, were transferred unwittingly by aides without the president’s knowledge.

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But the saga will be grist to the “stop Joe” mill. The allegations represent a challenge to his core political brand of honour and decency at the start of a more intense, potentially combative period of scrutiny for a president poised to seek re-election. Biden would be 86 at the end of a second term and already, even within his own party, the arguments against his candidature are being aired more and more.