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April 24, 2024

How Biden’s Mishandling of Classified Papers Differs From Trump’s Criminal Case

How Biden’s Mishandling of Classified Papers Differs From Trump’s Criminal Case



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Two superficially similar special counsel investigations came to contrasting ends — criminal charges in one case, and closure in the other — because the facts significantly diverged.

A special counsel found some evidence that President Biden might have known he had classified documents, but the prosecutor concluded that the facts were not sufficient to prove it.Credit…Pete Marovich for The New York Times

By Charlie Savage

Charlie Savage has been writing about national security, presidential power and legal policy for more than 20 years.

A special counsel’s conclusion that “no criminal charges are warranted” against President Biden for possessing classified material while he was out of office stands in contrast with another special counsel’s decision to bring criminal charges against former President Donald J. Trump for keeping classified documents after he left the White House.

After the Justice Department released the final report of the special counsel in the Biden documents inquiry this week, Mr. Trump sought to portray the two matters as equivalent and declared that he was being treated differently for political reasons.

“You know, look, if he’s not going to be charged, that’s up to them — but then I should not be charged,” Mr. Trump said at a campaign event in Harrisburg, Pa. “This is nothing more than selective persecution of Biden’s political opponent: me.”

But despite their superficial similarity, the facts of the two cases are very different, as the report by the special counsel in the Biden inquiry — Robert K. Hur, a Republican whom Mr. Trump had previously appointed to two Justice Department positions — stressed. Here is a closer look.

The investigations involved the discovery that papers containing classified information had improperly accompanied Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden after they left office — Mr. Trump when he left the presidency in 2021, and Mr. Biden when he left the vice presidency in 2017 — and that were being stored improperly. In both cases, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate.

In his report, Mr. Hur noted that “several material distinctions” between the two cases were clear and that the allegations against Mr. Trump, if proved, “present serious aggravating facts,” unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden. In particular, he said, the two men had responded very differently to the situations.

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