False equivalence cops on the Biden classified document case

When news broke the other day that President Biden’s lawyers had found a few documents with classified markings in a think-tank office he once used, we all knew that MAGA’s false equivalence cops would spring into action.

Their predictable message, aimed primarily at low-information nitwits: Trump is innocent because he and Biden did the same thing!

Um, no. They didn’t do the same thing.

This is bad for Biden, purely from a bare-knuckle political perspective. The disclosure of the Biden documents (including a second batch that Biden’s people have now found on his Delaware property) has gifted the MAGA Republicans a propaganda weapon when they needed it most – as Trump potentially teeters on the cusp of indictment. This week, via spin and innuendo, Republicans are busy asserting – with zero evidence – that the two cases are equivalent, as a way to absolve Trump of any criminal wrongdoing.

This muddying of the waters may well strike a chord with the millions of Americans who have problems processing facts, or who simply don’t pay attention. But if only a few of them are reading these words, here’s a simple primer on how the cases fundamentally differ, based on what we actually know:

The documents in the Biden case total roughly 12. The documents in the Trump case total at least 220, including at least 60 labeled “Top Secret.”

When Biden’s lawyers discovered the office documents, they immediately notified the National Archives and handed over the material a day later. Trump, for months, repeatedly defied requests from the National Archives that he hand over everything he was hoarding in Mar-a-Lago.

Biden’s Justice Department has named a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney to review the Biden office documents. Trump’s long pattern of obstruction – refusing to comply with a federal subpoena; handing over some classified documents while hanging onto others – compelled the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation and execute a search warrant.

Indeed, there was a great exchange the other day on Fox News. Host Dana Perino tried to goad Republican strategist Karl Rove into playing the false-equivalence game – but Rove didn’t take the bait. When Perino said that the Biden case “sound a little similar” to the Trump case, Rove succinctly replied:

“But there are differences. For example, how many documents in Biden’s case? There appear to be about 10. In the case of President Trump, hundreds…We know that President Trump ordered the removal of the documents to Mar-a-Lago. How responsive were (the two camps)? When the Biden people found out about (the office documents) they immediately called the local authorities and turned them over. We spent a year and a half watching the drama unfold in Mar-a-Lago, and it had to end in a police search to recover the documents.”

Nevertheless, Rove said that MAGA Republicans have been handed an opportunity to spin a false-equivalence narrative – and thus, “in the minds of a lot of ordinary Americans,” the two cases “are going to be conflated as being roughly the same.”

Rove got that right. Trump’s hacks on Capitol Hill are busy rooting for an FBI raid on Biden. Trump himself, on his social media site, is already claiming (with his usual attentiveness to facts) that all the Joe Biden office documents were “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL” and had something to do with Hunter Biden and China and “Old Crow” Mitch McConnell and McConnell’s Asian-born spouse, “Coco Chow.”

It’s only a matter of time before the “narrative” asserts that the Biden office documents reveal a plot to seize everybody’s gas stoves.

How refreshing it’d be, even in our nutcase political climate, if people could muster the ability to put things in perspective, to grasp the concept of proportionality. There’s a difference between a guy who forfeits stuff that doesn’t belong to him, and a guy who takes stuff and refuses to give it back. There’s a difference between a guy who negligently leaves a store without paying, and a guy who robs the place. There’s a difference, as former Bush pollster Matthew Dowd points out, “between an accidental fender bender who stays to file report, and a homicidal maniac who purposely runs through a crowd of people then leaves scene of the crime.”

We can only hope that Jack Smith and his federal prosecutors will spot the difference.

Copyright 2023 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]

Cited by the Columbia Journalism Review website as one of the nation's top political scribes, and by ABC News' online political tip sheet as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation, " Dick Polman is the national political columnist at Philadlephia NPR affiliate WHYY, and has covered or chronicled every presidential campaign since 1988.

A Philadelphia resident, Dick roamed the country for most of his 22 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has been blogging daily since 2006. He's currently on the full-time faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, as "Writer in Residence." He has been a frequent guest on C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, and various NPR shows - most notably Philadelphia's "Radio Times" on WHYY-FM.