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Jim Jordan Overreaches in Attacking DOJ Over the Biden Classified Docs

Attorney General Garland has followed established norms and acted responsibly.
January 17, 2023
Jim Jordan Overreaches in Attacking DOJ Over the Biden Classified Docs
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) speaks during an on-camera interview near the House Chambers during a series of votes in the U.S. Capitol Building on January 09, 2023 in Washington, DC. During 118th Congress's first day of business since electing a Speaker of the House, the House held a series of votes on a rules package with parameters for the House of Representatives. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Rep. Jim Jordan didn’t wait long to start swinging his partisan wrecking ball. On January 12, in his capacity as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, he sent the Department of Justice a letter insinuating misconduct that did not occur. And he surely knew it.

Demanding information about the timing of DOJ disclosures regarding classified documents first found at President Joe Biden’s University of Pennsylvania think tank, Jordan wrote: “It is unclear . . . whether [DOJ] actively concealed this information from the public on the eve of the 2022 elections” (emphasis added).

Jordan cannot be ignorant of DOJ’s longstanding pre-election “quiet policy,” in place since at least 2008 during the George W. Bush administration. Under the policy, DOJ takes no public action on cases relevant to an election in the weeks before—much less the days before—that election, if the action might affect the vote.

Attorney General Merrick Garland reportedly learned of the classified Biden documents on November 4 last year, two days after their discovery and four days before the November 8 midterm elections.

The “quiet period” policy is due to the potentially powerful effect on voters of public Justice Department actions related to election candidates. The policy famously came to public notice on October 28, 2016, when then-FBI Director James Comey ignored it. Eleven days before the November 8, 2016 presidential election, and contrary to the views of senior DOJ officials, Comey informed Congress that the FBI had discovered new evidence regarding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Comey’s announcement likely elected Donald Trump, according to Nate Silver’s statistical analysis on FiveThirtyEight.

When Jordan sent his January 12 letter implying corrupt, pre-election Justice Department concealment, he was advancing multiple partisan purposes rather than genuine oversight. First, the letter and the inevitable follow-up exchanges with DOJ will allow Jordan to amplify an inflammatory narrative connected to President Biden.

Second, the insinuation of a Justice Department coverup potentially undermines public confidence in its political independence. Garland has steadfastly sought to restore that public confidence in the wake of the damage done to it during William Barr’s attorney generalship.

Third, the inquiry would support a new MAGA blame game—attributing responsibility for the GOP’s sub-par performance in the midterms to a Biden administration coverup, as opposed to obvious weaknesses of Trump-supported candidates. That grievance narrative would provide more “anger-tainment” for the MAGA base that revels in painting Democrats as evildoers, whether in politics or pizza shops.

Let’s be clear. The Framers of the Constitution envisioned honest, vigorous congressional oversight of the executive branch. There are legitimate subjects for congressional inquiry here, not just around Biden’s possession of the classified documents but also around the timing of the administration’s disclosures regarding the discovery of the documents at Biden’s home.

Nonetheless, it is typical Jordan overreach to tack on a purported DOJ impropriety, as his letter alleges about pre-election coverup. The Department’s responsibility is to avoid influencing elections, particularly based on newly received information whose significance for law enforcement purposes is yet to be determined.

Such a determination, in cases involving the removal of classified documents from government locations involves multiple steps. The first is a preliminary inquiry into questions such as who is responsible for the removal and whether it was done unintentionally or purposefully. Cases involving accidental removal are not uncommon, and almost certainly not prosecuted.

For the Justice Department to have prematurely disclosed the discovery of the Biden-Penn Center documents on the eve of an election would have seriously risked repeating the Comey fiasco. Comey’s disclosure had the effect of influencing an election based on information that ended up proving nothing.

Here, Garland properly followed departmental norms and procedures. Within days of learning of the classified documents in the Biden papers, Garland properly assigned experienced Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney John Lausch to perform the appropriate preliminary investigation and recommend a course of action.

This month, Lausch recommended appointment of a special counsel to investigate the facts surrounding the Biden documents. Garland followed that recommendation, notwithstanding the sharp contrast between Trump’s apparent misconduct obstructing government efforts to recover top secret documents and Biden’s lawyers’ prompt return of such documents upon discovery.

Bottom line: Jordan’s allegation of impropriety has the familiar ring of political circus-mastering at the expense of protecting election integrity. It is up to citizens committed to an authentic constitutional government to call out the partisan overreach by Jordan and his colleagues, and allow the DOJ process to run its full course without fear or favor.

Frederick Baron and Dennis Aftergut

Frederick Baron formerly served as associate deputy attorney general, special assistant to the attorney general, and director of the Executive Office for National Security in the Department of Justice. Dennis Aftergut is a former assistant U.S. attorney and Supreme Court advocate who writes on national affairs.