Washington D.C. has long had an overclassification problem.
According to Yale Law Professor Oona Hathaway, more than 50 million documents are classified every year. In fact, “we don’t know the exact number because even the government can’t keep track of it all,” Hathaway told NPR last week.
Now, laws governing classified documents in private possession have become a primary vehicle to thwart political opponents.
More documents marked classified have now been found in former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana residence, his team announced to Congress on Tuesday. The revelation marks the latest episode in classified documents popping up in the apparently improper possession of individuals who’ve conducted state business at the highest levels of government.
Last week, a 13-hour FBI search of President Joe Biden’s Delaware residence turned up yet another trove of documents with classified markings from his tenure in public office before he was afforded total classification powers as commander-in-chief. The search by federal agents came after the president’s attorneys found secret records in several locations, including a Washington office closet and his Delaware garage.
In August, it was first former President Donald Trump who found himself in hot water when 30 plainclothes FBI agents raided the 128-room palace at Mar-a-Lago in search of classified documents. Operating under a broad warrant issued by Attorney General Merrick Garland that allowed officials to confiscate any record Trump may have come into contact with, agents took 15 boxes of material from the Florida residence. Deep-state DOJ officials then began to leak to their public relations team at The Washington Post that former President Trump was harboring nuclear secrets.
[READ: There’s A Difference Between Biden And Trump’s Classified Documents Snafus, But It’s Not What You Think]
“A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter,” the Post reported, “underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.”
Of course, the public has little to no idea what, exactly, the documents spelled out. They are classified, after all. But the constant drip of document appearances from now three potential presidential contenders showcases how laws governing classified records can be used to get rid of nearly any federal elected official. Given that a criminal conviction of Trump has remained the top item on the Democrats’ policy agenda since 2016, it’s a conspiracy to think the enforcement of the rarely prosecuted Presidential Records Act is not being pursued for the sole purpose of thwarting his 2024 campaign — that is until the dam of others’ classified documents broke.
The real scandal isn’t that the current president, his predecessor, and the last vice president were improperly harboring classified documents beyond their government tenure. The real scandal is Washington’s chronic overclassification problem, which leads to the laws governing classified records becoming weaponized to take out political opponents. It’s probably only a matter of time before classified documents appear in the possession of any former federal employee who wants to run for president, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley.
Even The Washington Post highlighted D.C.’s obsession with classifying everything way back in 1989. In classic swamp fashion, 34 years have gone by without fixing the problem.
Congress did try to address the overclassification issue in 2010 with the Reducing Over-Classification Act. President Barack Obama signed the law, but lawmakers failed to define “over-classification,” rendering the legislation practically useless.
The federal government can and should keep certain information concealed from public view. It’s probably not wise to reveal details about American nuclear operations. But anyone who’s ever submitted a request for public records through the Freedom of Information Act understands Washington hates making anything public.
The Federalist is still waiting on the Department of Transportation, of all agencies, to comply with a records request that was filed in late 2021 related to Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s prolonged eight-week absence amid a supply-chain crisis. Once the agency coughed up documents as a result of a lawsuit from Protect the Public’s Trust this month, the secretary’s husband, Chasten, berated reporters for focusing on old news.
Tristan Justice is the western correspondent for The Federalist. He has also written for The Washington Examiner and The Daily Signal. His work has also been featured in Real Clear Politics and Fox News. Tristan graduated from George Washington University where he majored in political science and minored in journalism. Follow him on Twitter at @JusticeTristan or contact him at [email protected]