June 8, 2023

Pence documents discovery sparks scrutiny on US classification system – as it happened | US politics

Read Time:17 Minute, 52 Second

It started in August when the FBI carried out an unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and carted away boxes of what the government revealed were secret materials he should not have left the White House with.

It appeared the former president was in serious legal peril, particularly once it emerged that he’d sidestepped efforts by the National Archives to retrieve the materials, and after attorney general Merrick Garland said special counsel Jack Smith would look into the matter.

But then, in January, it was revealed Joe Biden had found classified documents from his time as vice president at a former office in Washington DC, and later at his home in Delaware. When it was revealed that the White House discovered this just prior to the November midterm elections but didn’t make the news public, Republicans pounced. Earlier this month, Garland announced the appointment of another special counsel, Robert Hur, to handle the investigation into the Biden case.

Then yesterday, news broke that the former vice president under Trump, Mike Pence, also found classified materials in his home in Indiana. That discovery has prompted something of a tonal shift in Washington, with both Democratic and Republican politicians now wondering if there isn’t a larger issue to be addressed with the government’s classification process – or perhaps its procedures for presidential transitions.

Key events

Closing summary

Joe Biden announced that the United States will send Ukraine its Abrams battle tank, as western allies mobilize to provide Kyiv with the armor it argues is necessary to defend against Russia’s invasion. Back in Washington, lawmakers and experts are reacting to the cascade of classified documents discovered at the properties of former White House occupants, most recently ex-vice president Mike Pence’s home in Indiana.

Here’s what else happened today:

  • Barack Obama’s office wouldn’t say whether the former president planned to check if he had any classified material in his possession.

  • A Georgia district attorney says a decision on prosecuting people involved in Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the state’s 2020 election result is “imminent”.

  • House speaker Kevin McCarthy has made good on his promise to boot two Democrats from the intelligence committee, and plans to seek a vote on removing a third from the foreign affairs committee.

  • Former transportation secretary Elaine Chao responded to Trump’s repeated racist attacks.

  • George Santos’s former roommate went public with the tale of his brief and crowded time living with the admitted liar turned congressman.

Republican House representative Victoria Spartz had some harsh words for Kevin McCarthy and his quest for remove three Democratic lawmakers from committees:

Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-IN) criticizes Speaker Kevin McCarthy for kicking Democrat Reps. Eric Swalwell, Ilhan Omar, and Adam Schiff off House committees:

“I want to defend the due process of this institution because we’re becoming like a theater full of actors in the circus.” pic.twitter.com/ZErT2iaBiP

— The Recount (@therecount) January 25, 2023

Spartz’s complaints are not to be taken lightly. The GOP only has a four-vote margin of control in the House.

Former transportation secretary responds to Trump’s racist attacks

Donald Trump’s former transportation secretary Elaine Chao was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States when she was eight years old.
Donald Trump’s former transportation secretary Elaine Chao was born in Taiwan and immigrated to the United States when she was eight years old. Photograph: Jon Cherry/Getty Images for Concordia

Elaine Chao was Donald Trump’s transportation secretary from the start of his term until her resignation following the January 6 insurrection, but despite her lengthy service, the former president has repeatedly targeted her with racist insults.

In a statement to Politico, Chao – who is married to the top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell and also served as labor secretary under George W Bush – made a decision that was unusual for her: she responded to Trump’s attacks.

“When I was young, some people deliberately misspelled or mispronounced my name. Asian Americans have worked hard to change that experience for the next generation. He doesn’t seem to understand that, which says a whole lot more about him than it will ever say about Asian Americans,” Chao said.

Politico notes that Chao’s decision to speak out comes in the wake of two mass shootings targeting Asian Americans. In the past, Chao has avoided political bickering, but wound up in Trump’s crosshairs anyway due to his disagreements with McConnell. Trump has made social media posts suggesting that McConnell has inappropriate ties to China because of his wife. Chao was born in Taiwan, and immigrated to the United States when she was eight years old.

CNN pounded the pavement of the Capitol to try to figure out what House Republicans make of the news that Mike Pence has joined the ranks of those possessing classified documents they should not have.

Prior to the development, the GOP was gearing up to hold Joe Biden’s feet to the fire for keeping secret documents from his time as vice president and senator in two locations. They still plan to do that, but have yet to spell out how they’ll handle the similar conduct from Pence, a Republican former vice president who may run for the White House in 2024:

GOP pressing ahead after Pence classified doc news
Comer says Biden and Pence to be treated “exact” same way.
Jordan sees a difference over how FBI treated Biden vs. Trump
Waltz says House Intel needs to learn “was there any damage” from the records Pence, Trump and Biden had pic.twitter.com/d7mgvtyrjW

— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 25, 2023

You know it’s bad when new outlets are willing to publish an interview with your former roommate about what it was like to live with you.

But that’s the situation George Santos finds himself in, after telling a whole bunch of lies in his successful quest to be elected to Congress. New York Magazine secured an interview with Yasser Rabello, who recounted a brief stay in a crowded, two-bedroom apartment in Queens, New York that he found through his acquaintance with Santos – who he knew as Anthony Devolder.

Even then, Santos was murky about his affairs. From the interview:

So he was always in the common space. What did he do all day?

He was home all day on his computer, just browsing the web, probably chatting with people. He said he was a reporter at Globo in Brazil.

Which was a lie, it seems.

Then he told me he was a model and that he worked at New York Fashion Week and that he met all the Victoria’s Secret models and would be in Vogue magazine.

The $500-a-month apartment started out crammed and grew worse, with Rabello sleeping in one bedroom, Santos’s mother in the other and the future congressman on a couch in the living room, with his sister elsewhere in the apartment. The future congressman’s boyfriend later moved in and slept on a mattress, but the family would often have friends over, too.

Rabello recounts how tensions rose as the Santos/Devolder clan at first occasionally offered to share meals with him, before cutting him off, saying it was getting too expensive, and later even hiding bottles of water from him. Matters reached a peak when the family – who did not take the property’s keys with them when they’d go somewhere – grew upset with Rabello when he didn’t answer the door quickly enough:

None of them carried their own keys, which is stupid. I don’t know who does that. So I wake up one day with my phone next to me ringing. They were yelling at me to let them in. They had been ringing the buzzer for the intercom, but it was broken, so I didn’t hear it. I let them in, and Fatima starts shouting in Portuguese for me to get out of her apartment. So I stopped staying there. But I had one more month on my lease, so I kept going in day by day to get my stuff.

How did that go?

I arranged with my friend who has a driver’s license to rent a truck so we could get my Ikea dresser. I arranged with Anthony a time to come. He said, “Okay.” I tried to take my dresser, and a fight started. His mother said, “You’re not gonna take my dresser.” I was like, “Excuse me, how come this is yours? Did you buy it? Do you have the receipt? The neighbors were coming to their doors because of the disturbance. It wasn’t that expensive, so I let it go. Later on, my friend with the truck helped me to write a letter to the property manager explaining that they were putting a lot of roommates in the apartment, which is illegal.

They were eventually evicted. Where do you think the dresser is now?

I don’t know. Ikea furniture is not sturdy enough for multiple moves. It probably broke a long time ago.

Republican House speaker Kevin McCarthy has pledged to remove Democrat Ilhan Omar from her seat on the foreign affairs committee over allegations she used antisemitic language.

At a press conference today, the Minnesota lawmaker hit back McCarthy:

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) rebukes Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s “purely partisan” decision to remove her from House committee assignments:

“Not only [is it] a political stunt, but also a blow to the integrity of our democratic institution and a threat to our national security.” pic.twitter.com/AGefau1Eka

— The Recount (@therecount) January 25, 2023

On Tuesday, the House speaker removed two Democratic foes from the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell. McCarthy has the power to do that unilaterally, but to oust Omar from her post on foreign affairs, he’ll need the votes of a majority of the House. It’s unclear if he has enough support, as at least two Republicans oppose the move.

Richard Luscombe

The discovery of classified documents at the home of former US vice-president Mike Pence, following similar incidents involving Joe Biden and Donald Trump, is bringing new scrutiny to government procedures for handling and securing its most delicate secrets.

The justice department and FBI are looking into how about a dozen classified-marked papers came to be found last week in an unsecure location at Pence’s Indiana residence, two years after he and Trump left office.

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, has appointed special counsels to investigate what is thought to be around a dozen documents found at Biden’s Delaware home and Pennsylvania office, and many thousands of papers seized by the FBI at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last year.

The latest revelations have led to calls from politicians and analysts for a tightening of how classified documents are handled at the conclusion of a presidency, and a demand for more oversight of the federal agency responsible for securing and transporting them during the handover.

There are also questions whether the US has a problem with over-classification of materials given the number of documents so far uncovered in the possession of senior current and former elected officials.

“Clearly the process is broken,” Florida Republican congressman Mike Waltz, a member of the House armed services committee, told Fox News.

“We’ve got to take a hard look at GSA (General Services Administration) and how they and the intelligence community pack these documents [and] get them to wherever the president or vice-president is going.”

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

Two House Democrats have written to Kevin McCarthy, to demand that the Republican speaker deny George Santos the opportunity to access classified information.

George Santos.
George Santos. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Santos is a New York Republican who won election in November but has since come under enormous scrutiny over his largely made-up résumé, his past conduct and his campaign finance filings.

Republicans in New York have joined Democrats in calling for Santos to resign. He has said he will not. McCarthy and other Republican leaders have stood by their man – not least because Santos backed McCarthy through 15 votes for speaker and McCarthy must now fill that role with a very slim majority under constant threat from rightwing rebels.

In their letter to McCarthy, Joe Morelle and Gregory Meeks, both New York Democrats, write: “It is clear that Congressman George Santos has violated the public’s trust on various occasions and his unfettered access to our nation’s secrets presents a significant risk to the national security of this country.

“We urge you to act swiftly to prevent George Santos from abusing his position and endangering our nation.”

McCarthy has named Santos to two House committees: small business and science, space and technology.

On Wednesday, the speaker told reporters: “If for some way when we go through [the] ethics [committee it is found] that he has broken the law, then we will remove him, but it’s not my role. I believe in the rule of law. A person’s innocent until proven guilty.”

Morelle and Meeks said: “The numerous concerning allegations about his behavior over decades put his character into question and suggest he cannot be trusted with confidential and classified information that could threaten the United States’ national security.

“As the newly elected Speaker of the House of Representatives, we call on you to limit to the greatest degree possible Congressman George Santos’s ability to access classified materials, including preventing him from attending any confidential or classified briefings for the foreseeable future.”

More on Santos:

Martin Pengelly

Martin Pengelly

NBC News made a splash this morning by reporting that Marjorie Taylor Greene, the far-right bomb thrower from Georgia who has gone from pariah in a Democratic House to power-player in a Republican chamber, wants to be Donald Trump’s presidential running mate in 2024.

Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Marjorie Taylor Greene. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Caution is advised, not least because in citing “two people who have spoken to the firebrand second-term congresswoman about her ambitions”, NBC quoted by name Steve Bannon, the former Trump campaign chair and White House strategist now a perennially controversial presence in far-right media and accused fraudster.

“This is no shrinking violet, she’s ambitious – she’s not shy about that, nor should she be,” Bannon said. “She sees herself on the short list for Trump’s VP … when MTG looks in the mirror she sees a potential president smiling back.”

The second source cited, unnamed, said Greene’s “whole vision is to be vice-president” and said she was likely to be on Trump’s shortlist.

Greene has become an unlikely but key ally of Kevin McCarthy, the new House speaker, after backing him against a rightwing rebellion that forced him through 15 rounds of voting to secure the position.

The New York Times reported that this week that McCarthy said of Greene: “I will never leave that woman. I will always take care of her.”

Bannon told NBC Greene was “both strategic and disciplined – she made a power move, knowing it would run up hard against her most ardent crew. She was prepared to take the intense heat/hatred short-term for the long-term goal of being a player.”

Greene did not comment. To the Times, she said McCarthy would over the next two years “easily vindicate me and prove I moved the conference to the right during my first two years when I served in the minority with no committees”.

Here’s a reminder of some of Greene’s other comments, the sort of thing that got her kicked off committees when Democrats ran the House, and which McCarthy now thinks is no impediment to membership of panels on oversight and homeland security:

  • She advocated that Nancy Pelosi, the former speaker, be executed.

  • She harassed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the prominent New York progressive.

  • She harassed David Hogg, a Parkland survivor and gun control activist.

  • She was condemned for racist and antisemitic videos made during her campaign.

  • She repeatedly flouted public health measures against Covid-19.

  • She repeated conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attacks.

  • She said Jewish-controlled “space lasers” caused forest fires.

  • She expressed sympathy for the QAnon conspiracy theory.

  • She landed in the soup over comments about “Nancy Pelosi’s gazpacho police”.

And so on. Vice-presidential material? In today’s Republican party, it would seem entirely possible. Trump dominates polling so far, with only Ron DeSantis of Florida anywhere close.

Robert Draper of the New York Times, author of Weapons of Mass Delusion: When the Republican Party Lost Its Mind, knows something of “MTG” and her rise. Here’s some further reading:

The day so far

Joe Biden has announced that the United States will send Ukraine its Abrams battle tank, as western allies agree to provide Kyiv with the armor it argues is necessary to defend against Russia’s assault. Back in Washington, lawmakers and experts are reacting to the cascade of classified document discoveries at the properties of former White House occupants, most recently former vice president Mike Pence’s home in Indiana.

Here’s what else has happened today thus far:

  • Barack Obama’s office wouldn’t say whether the former president planned to check if he had any classified material in his possession.

  • A Georgia district attorney says a decision on prosecuting people involved in Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the state’s 2020 election result is “imminent”.

  • House speaker Kevin McCarthy has made good on his promise to boot two Democrats from the intelligence committee, and plans to seek a vote on removing a third from the foreign affairs committee.

Washington has long been concerned about provoking Russia through its supply of weapons to Ukraine.

Joe Biden nodded to that concern as he announced the United States would supply Kyiv with Abrams tanks.

“That’s what this is about, helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat to Russia,” the president said.

As Biden wrapped up his announcement that the United States would provide Ukraine with Abrams tanks, a reporter asked if Germany had forced him to change his mind.

Kyiv has been asking its allies for armor to blunt Russia’s invasion, but Biden had reportedly been hesitant to send the Abrams, arguing their training and logistics needs would make them unsuited for the conflict. Washington viewed Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks as a better option, partially because many of Ukraine’s neighbors had stocks that could be provided to Kyiv with Berlin’s permission. But German chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would only green-light such transfers if the United States provided armor as well. The two leaders have spoken repeatedly in recent days, and Germany announced it would send some Leopards to Ukraine shortly before Biden made his announcement.

“Germany didn’t force me to change (my) mind,” Biden said. “We wanted to make sure we’re all together. That’s what we’re going to do all along, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Here’s the Guardian’s Lauren Gambino with more details on the Abrams tanks heading to Ukraine, and how the decision fits in with the overall western effort to supply Kyiv’s defenses:

The Biden administration has approved sending 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine as international reluctance to send tanks to the battlefront against the Russians begins to erode.

The news came after Germany confirmed it will make 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks available for Ukraine’s war effort, and give partner countries its permission to re-export other battle tanks to aid Kyiv.

By agreeing to send the Abrams, the US is able to meet the demand of the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, for an American commitment but without having to send the tanks immediately.

“Today’s announcement shows the United States and Europe continuing to work hand in hand to support Ukraine, united in our common values and our ongoing support to Ukraine, which the President and other leaders, including in the G7 format, have reiterated will continue for as long as it takes,” a senior administration official said.

Much of the US aid sent so far in the 11-month-old war has been through a separate program drawing on Pentagon stocks to get weapons more quickly to Ukraine. But even under that program, it would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and to get Ukrainian forces trained on them.

Ukraine says heavily armored Western battle tanks would give its troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive that Kyiv expects in the near future. They could also help Ukraine retake some of the territory that has fallen to Russia.

US to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine: Biden

The United States will provide Ukraine with Abrams tanks, as part of a push by western allies to send Kyiv heavy armor to defeat Russia’s invasion, Joe Biden said in a White House speech.

“I’m announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion,” Biden said. Defense secretary Lloyd Austin “has recommended this step because it will enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve strategic objectives.”

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