White House response to Biden documents frustrates Democrats

Washington — Over the course of the week, West Wing staffers, officials across the Biden administration and Democratic Party officials more generally expressed frustration to CBS News with how the White House has been explaining to the public discovery of documents with classified markings at President Biden’s former office and his home in Delaware.

Those who spoke to CBS News, who were granted anonymity to speak candidly about the situation and not disrupt their professional relationships, believe the decision not to disclose the discovery of the documents sooner undermines the president’s precious promises of transparency and professional management of government.

And they are concerned that with a special counsel investigation now underway, the White House will be severely limited in what it can say, making it unable to confirm even basic details.

“They’re trying to put lipstick on a pig,” a Democrat close to the White House said Friday. “The problem is this week they were handed 50 pigs and a stick of lipstick.”

A Democratic Party official from the Northeast aligned closely with the president and his top aides added, “There’s no real equivalence between the Trump dossier situation and Biden’s. But why on earth didn’t they get the story out earlier, like before the holidays? And why didn’t they get the whole story out at once, instead of drip, drip, drip with each new discovery of documents? In short, it was not handled well at all.”

Some House Democrats are expressing their concerns about the situation more openly.

“It shouldn’t have happened. It needs to be investigated and it is being investigated,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, Saturday on MSNBC. “So we’ll have to wait and find out all the details and I’m confident we’ll get all the details. So I’m sure he’s unhappy about it, I haven’t spoken to him but who would be happy about this?”

More generally, Rep. Matt Cartwright, a moderate Democrat who represents the president’s hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said on Fox News that the federal government needs to review how outgoing presidents and vice presidents go about organizing the archiving of their documents, both of which are classified. and unclassified because this cannot continue.”

“Whether it’s President Trump leaving office, whether it’s Vice President Biden leaving office, you’re talking about employees who are all pitching in, they’re rewriting their resumes, they’re sending them out to new jobs, they’re not thinking about , you know, business at hand, it seems to me,” he added.

In a statement Saturday, the president’s personal attorney said, Bob Farmerdefended the public disclosure of the discovery of the material, saying that his team has “tried to balance the importance of public transparency, where appropriate, with the established norms and limitations necessary to protect the integrity of the investigation. These considerations require avoiding public disclosure of relevant details. to the investigation while it is ongoing.”

In a separate statement, the office of the White House counsel, which is tasked with representing the president in official matters, said it would refer future press inquiries about the details of the ongoing investigation and the discovery of the material to the Justice Department.

Many Democrats are particularly sensitive to media reports comparing and contrasting the discovery of the materials on Mr. Biden’s former office and Delaware estate and the months-long effort by the National Archives to recover hundreds of classified documents from the former president Donald Trump.

“Comparing Biden’s cooperation to Trump’s obstruction is like comparing apples and arsenic,” Kyle Herrig, executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, wrote Friday.

The Democrat-aligned group is designed as an outside force to support the president and congressional Democrats amid the impending barrage of House Republican oversight investigations.

Herrig sent updated, suggested talking points Friday to prominent party activists and frequent TV guests, urging them to say the president is “fully cooperating” while Trump “repeatedly blocked efforts to obtain sensitive documents to the point that the Department of Justice had to obtain and execute a search warrant.”

Herrig characterized the Biden and Trump cases, respectively, as: “Cooperation vs obstruction. Misplaced vs stolen. Voluntary vs subpoena. Instant vs search warrant.”

Another Democrat, who advised Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign and has worked in campaign politics across the South and West for decades, described the situation the president now faces as “hypocritical,” given Mr. Biden’s past condemnations of Trump’s handling of classified information.

But this Democrat said the White House was “sharp” in its response to positive economic data this week showing a further reduction of inflation and growing Republican calls to cut federal entitlement programs in exchange for raising the nation’s debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Friday should take place in early June.

Staying focused on building the economy should bolster the president’s political standing, this Democrat said. “Does the American public really care about the files in Trump’s mansion or Biden’s garage? I don’t think so. I think they care more about the price of a carton of eggs.”

Jane Chick contributed reporting to this story.

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