Amid continued damning revelations about presidents and vice presidents who have recently been found to be in possession of classified documents after leaving the White House, the lone Black commander-in-chief’s reputation of being “scandal-free” remains intact.
It was reported on Tuesday that a number of classified documents have been discovered at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence. He joins the likes of former President Donald Trump, current President Joe Biden and even former President Jimmy Carter as those who had top secret records found at their personal residences following their terms serving at the highest levels of American government.
Conspicuously missing from that unfortunate list is former President Barack Obama, whose spokesperson confirmed to CNN that the first Black president had long turned over all classified documents from his administration to the National Archives when he left the White House in 2016.
Reps for George W. Bush and Bill Clinton said those former presidents also gave their respective classified documents to the National Archives when their times in office were over, CNN reported.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to look into the classified documents that were recently revealed to be found at Biden’s home in Delaware as well as a former personal office in Washington. The documents were from when Biden was vice president to Obama. Biden said upon their discoveries, he immediately turned them over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and informed the Department of Justice.
Trump was much less transparent and refused repeated requests to turn over classified records he took with him from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, where the FBI was compelled to raid in order to finally recover the documents.
A spokesperson for Pence claimed the documents found in the former vice president’s home during a search last week were “inadvertently boxed and transported” there, according to the New York Times.
The issue with former presidents being in possession of classified documents after leaving the White House is not a new one.
Even President Jimmy Carter, who served from 1977 to 1981, was found to have had classified records in his home after leaving office.
Former President Jimmy Carter found classified materials at his home in Plains, Georgia, on at least one occasion and returned them to the National Archives, according to the same person who spoke of regular occurrences of mishandled documents. The person did not provide details on the timing of the discovery.
An aide to the Carter Center provided no details when asked about that account of Carter discovering documents at his home after leaving office in 1981. It’s notable that Carter signed the Presidential Records Act in 1978 but it did not apply to records of his administration, taking effect years later when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. Before Reagan, presidential records were generally considered the private property of the president individually. Nonetheless, Carter invited federal archivists to assist his White House in organizing his records in preparation for their eventual repository at his presidential library in Georgia.
The Presidential Records Act (PRA) has been in effect since Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 and requires former presidents and vice presidents to turn over all classified documents from their terms in office to allow the National Archives to “manage the records of their Administrations.”
Obama is notably not a part of that club of presidents who are accused of violating PRA and mishandling classified documents.
Obama reminded Americans in 2018 that his White House “didn’t have a scandal that embarrassed us.” At the time, he appeared to be slighting Trump’s administration, which has continued to be mired in controversy and scandal since he took office.
“We didn’t have a scandal that embarrassed us,” Obama said according to audio recorded during a private speech he gave in Boston at the time. “I know that seems like a low bar.”
Obama added: “Generally speaking, you didn’t hear about a lot of drama inside our White House.”
That sentiment of a “scandal-free” Obama administration was first floated by New York Times columnist David Brooks when the 44th president was still in the White House.
“And I have my disagreements, say, with President Obama, but President Obama has run an amazingly scandal-free administration, not only he himself, but the people around him,” Brooks said at the time. “He’s chosen people who have been pretty scandal-free.”
It appears that remains resoundingly true eight years later.
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