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Poll: Most Think Trump’s Actions on Classified Docs Were Illegal But Not Biden’s

Just 37 percent of Americans think what Biden did was illegal, while 52 percent say Trump’s actions were illegal.

President Joe Biden speaks to members of the United States Conference of Mayors in the East Room of the White House on January 20, 2023, in Washington, D.C.

A new poll shows that President Joe Biden’s approval rating hasn’t been greatly affected by the discovery that he had been improperly storing classified documents in his offices and on his personal property.

Most Americans are concerned about Biden’s handling of the government documents, a portion of which were marked classified. Indeed, a majority (57 percent) disapprove of how the president has handled himself in the weeks after it was revealed that a small number of documents were found in his possession, according to a CNN/SSRS poll that was published on Monday, with two-thirds (67 percent) of respondents saying it’s either a very serious or somewhat serious issue.

But the poll also shows that Biden’s approval rating remains level to where it stood in the month prior to the discovery that he had such documents in his possession. Forty-five percent of Americans currently approve of Biden’s job as president, a number that is virtually unchanged from the 46 percent that approved of his work when the poll was conducted in early December.

Americans also seem to believe that Biden’s actions aren’t as serious as those of former President Donald Trump, who had improperly transferred thousands of government documents to his Mar-a-Lago estate upon leaving the White House, more than 300 of which were marked classified. Trump spent over a year blocking the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) from retrieving those documents, and seemingly lied when his legal counsel signed an affidavit attesting that he didn’t have any more such documents in his possession last June.

In August, an FBI search warrant found that Trump was still in possession of more than 100 classified government documents, some of which were found in his personal office. Additional classified documents held by Trump were also found at a storage facility he owned outside of Mar-a-Lago.

According to the CNN/SSRS poll, 52 percent of Americans believe Trump’s actions were illegal. Thirty-two percent believe they were unethical but not illegal, and 15 percent said he did nothing wrong.

President Joe Biden has fared much better with the American public. Just 37 percent think he acted illegally, based on the significantly smaller number of documents found in his possession so far. Forty-four percent described his actions as unethical, and 18 percent said he didn’t act wrongly at all.

Fewer than a dozen classified documents have been found at a think tank office Biden rarely used. Lawyers working on behalf of Biden discovered the classified materials and alerted NARA immediately, according to White House officials. Around half a dozen documents were found in a subsequent search of Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.

Legal experts and commentators largely agree that there are significant differences between Biden and Trump’s improper storage of classified documents. While the evidence so far suggests that Biden was cooperative and even proactive in returning documents to the government once they were discovered, Trump resisted efforts by NARA and the Department of Justice (DOJ) to retrieve the documents from his estate.

“President Biden and VP Pence,” who also recently found classified documents in his possession, “did not intend to take classified documents and then refuse to give them back,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) said in a recent tweet. “But former President Trump intended to do both.”

“Cooperation vs Obstruction. That’s the difference between Biden’s and Trump’s handling of classified documents,” political opinion writer David Weissman said.

Many Republicans are still adamant that Trump has been treated unfairly by the DOJ compared to Biden. “Why was President Trump’s home raided but not President Biden’s?” House Judiciary Committee chair Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) recently tweeted.

But historian and journalist Garrett Graff explained the difference between Biden and Trump in stark terms in a guest column in The New York Times last week.

“Mr. Biden’s handling of the issue…shows how an official who finds misfiled or improperly stored classified files should react,” Graff wrote. Trump, meanwhile, “spent months fighting with the National Archives over the files and repeatedly assured the Justice Department that he had turned over all files, even when he was still — apparently knowingly — holding onto scores of classified files.”

“[Trump] failed to comply with a legal subpoena, and only then did the FBI move to search his Mar-a-Lago residence,” Graff added.

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