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The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Five questions about the documents recovered from Biden

The Daily 202

A lunchtime newsletter featuring political analysis on the stories driving the day.

Welcome to The Daily 202! Tell your friends to sign up here. On this day in 1845, Congress decreed that the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November would be the date for all national elections.

The big idea

Five questions about the documents recovered from Biden

President Biden’s document, uh, situation took a turn over the weekend after a 13-hour search of his home in Wilmington turned up more items with classified markings, some from his eight-year tenure as vice president, others from his decades-long stint in the Senate.

A lot of what we think we know about this evolving controversy is in this piece by Matt Viser and Tyler Pager.

But an important quality for any journalist is to know what they don’t know. This is as good a time as any to consider a few outstanding questions, something Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) did Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation when asked about the latest discoveries.

“How many documents are we talking about? Dozens? A handful or hundreds? How serious are they? Why were they taken? Did anyone have access to them? And then, is the president being cooperative?” Kaine asked. (He went on to say “of course he’s being cooperative.”)

Here, then, are some of The Daily 202’s questions:

Chain of custody. A.k.a. how’d they get there?

How did documents apparently clearly marked classified end up at Biden’s home and at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington? What was Biden’s personal role, if any?

The Washington Post reported last week that “Biden’s longtime executive assistant Kathy Chung has confided to associates that she is distressed that she might have inadvertently been involved in moving or storing classified material at the center.” But my colleagues say she wasn’t involved with this latest batch.

Content. Just what’s in those documents?

Documents that belong to the federal government belong to the federal government. Improperly taking and storing them is bad. But it should be obvious that not all “this is not good” are created equal. So: Just how secret are the documents found in Biden’s custody?

We don’t have a lot to go on.

My colleagues recently reported that “[a] person familiar with the case said some of the documents found in the first discovery of classified materials related to Iran” but whether that’s a boring-but-classified diplomatic cable about inflation or a top-secret map of Tehran’s nuclear facilities from which the Islamic Republic could deduce the identity of CIA assets, we don’t know.

Chain of custody (slight return). Who, if anyone, saw them?

Were the items recovered from Biden’s home and office boxed up tight and left unseen for years? Or did people not allowed to see them gain access to them?

(I had initially thought that the reason investigators had taken some items with Biden’s handwriting on them was to help them figure out the timeline in which the items were moved and assess whether they’d been looked at since they were taken, but the statement from his lawyer says the notes were from his vice-presidential years.)

Is there a formal damage assessment underway?

Back in August, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) announced it would conduct a formal assessment of classified documents former president Donald Trump had retained after leaving office, notably with an eye on potential national security risks.

So is there a similar process going on related to the documents recovered from Biden? Will there be? Will either be public, even in redacted form?

Can White House communications get better?

One exchange between a reporter and White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Jan. 18 encapsulated everything that frustrates journalists about the current messaging approach.

Despite her repeated insistence that the White House has been nothing but transparent, many of Jean-Pierre’s replies to questions were just her referring inquiries to the Justice Department, the White House Counsel’s Office or other entities. One journalist took the logical step of asking her whether she would bring officials from the counsel’s office to the briefing room to take questions in front of the cameras.

Jean-Pierre’s reply: “That is something that I would refer you to the White House Counsel’s Office.”

The White House has brought in a communications pro, Ian Sams, to speak for the counsel’s office. He has, for instance, addressed some of the questions about the searches and documents. (His main job is likely to be responding to Republican attacks and investigations.) But the main White House position has been to throw basically everything to the Justice Department or White House Counsel or DNI on the grounds that there’s an active investigation.

While Biden himself hasn’t been shy about commenting publicly, not shy at all, his aides describe the approach as protecting a principle: the independence of the investigation.

But as a practical matter, it can also serve to protect what’s known in official Washington, D.C., as a principal (Biden himself).

That’s because the strategy pushes the story’s center of gravity from an institution where a daily question-and-answer (or question-and-reply) is expected, like the White House briefing room, to institutions where that is not traditionally the case (ODNI, White House Counsel’s Office, etc.)

Politics-but-not

See an important political story that doesn’t quite fit traditional politics coverage? Flag it for us here.

What’s happening now

Jeffries taps Schiff, Swalwell for Intelligence panel; McCarthy vows to block both

“House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) has formally recommended that Reps. Adam B. Schiff and Eric Swalwell be reappointed to the House Intelligence Committee, escalating a clash with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who has vowed to deny spots on the panel to both California Democrats,” John Wagner and Marianna Sotomayor report.

Ruben Gallego announces run for Arizona Senate seat held by Kyrsten Sinema

“Rep. Ruben Gallego announced he will run for the U.S. Senate in Arizona on Monday, setting up a potential three-way race in the battleground state in 2024 that poses a threat to independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s hold on the seat,” Liz Goodwin and Marianna Sotomayor report.

Supreme Court asks Biden administration to weigh in on social media case

“The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Biden administration to weigh in on whether states may bar giant social media platforms from removing certain types of political speech, a major First Amendment case that could determine how the constitutional right to free speech applies to the marketplace of ideas on the internet,” Robert Barnes and Cat Zakrzewski report.

Spotify latest tech name to cut jobs, axes 6% of workforce

“Music streaming service Spotify said Monday it’s cutting 6% of its global workforce, becoming yet another tech company resorting to layoffs as the post-pandemic economic outlook weakens,” the Associated Press’s Kelvin Chan reports.

Lunchtime reads from The Post

Early rift over immigration exposes House GOP’s tough path to consensus

House Republicans’ attempt to bring a border security bill to the floor as early as this week was thwarted after backlash from more moderate Republicans, delaying not only a pledge Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) made to a handful of lawmakers but also the fulfillment of a key campaign promise to a Republican base eager for tougher immigration laws,” Marianna Sotomayor and Theodoric Meyer report.

Police investigate Monterey Park shooter’s weapons, history; motive unknown

Investigators are delving into the history of the shooter who killed five men and five women inside a dance hall in Monterey Park, Calif., as the community mourns the victims of the mass killing in the Los Angeles suburb,” Bryan Pietsch, Kelly Kasulis Cho, Leo Sands, Annabelle Timsit, Marisa Iati and Maham Javaid report. Follow The Post’s live coverage here.

More coverage:

Attacks on U.S. Jews and gays accelerate as hate speech grows on Twitter

New research to be released later this month by the misinformation tracker Network Contagion Research Institute suggests a connection between real-world incidents and variations of the word ‘groomer,’ often aimed at gays and suggesting that they are adults bent on seducing children. Although polls indicate a significant minority of the population believes otherwise, gay people are not more likely to be predators than straight people,” Joseph Menn reports.

… and beyond

Election deniers set sights on next target

“Swing state voters broadly rejected candidates in last year’s midterms who questioned the results of the 2020 elections. But unfounded accusations of fraud and other malfeasance continue to tear at the machinery of U.S. elections,” Politico’s Zach Montellaro reports

“The latest example comes from Alabama and its newly elected secretary of state, Wes Allen. His first official act upon taking office earlier this month was unusual: The Republican fulfilled a campaign promise by withdrawing Alabama from an obscure interstate compact that helps states maintain voter rolls, citing data security concerns.”

U.S. investigators uncovered alleged corruption by Mexico’s former security minister years before he was indicted

“Investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration uncovered evidence of [Genaro] García Luna’s secret alliance with violent drug traffickers more than 10 years ago, months before he stepped down from office in 2012. By the next year, they had enough to present their findings to the head of the DEA, who urged them to press ahead to an indictment,” ProPublica’s Tim Golden reports.

But as the investigators continued to build their case over the next few years, federal prosecutors in Houston rejected it repeatedly as insufficient, several current and former officials told ProPublica. Finally, the case stalled.”

The Biden agenda

Biden lawyers initially thought official files went to think tank only

President Biden’s lawyers told the Justice Department in November that they had no reason to believe that copies of official records from his vice presidency had ended up anywhere beyond a think tank in Washington, where several classified documents had been found that month, two people familiar with the matter said on Sunday,” the New York Times’s Charlie Savage reports.

White House aims at protecting abortion pill access, Harris says

“President Joe Biden is issuing a memorandum aimed at protecting access to mifepristone, a drug used in medication abortion, Vice President Kamala Harris said Sunday,” Bloomberg News’s Jennifer Jacobs reports.

How covid, flu and RSV are declining, visualized

Doctors braced for a dire winter — a looming disaster some dubbed a ‘tripledemic — with flu season revving up, coronavirus roaring back and the holidays providing fuel for viruses to spread,” Fenit Nirappil reports.

But no such surge materialized. The RSV wave has receded in Connecticut and across the country. Flu cases have rapidly dwindled. Covid hospitalizations rose briefly after Christmas, only to fall again.”

Hot on the left

‘There is no plan. There’s nothing’: Florida Democrats in despair over future

More than two months after enduring humbling midterm losses, Democrats in Florida are in a state of disorder, with no clear leader, infrastructure, or consensus for rebuilding, according to interviews with more than a dozen organizers, former lawmakers, donors and other leaders,” Sabrina Rodriguez and Michael Scherer report.

These factors have compounded their worries about Democrats outside Florida all but writing off the nation’s third most populous state, which was once seen as a marquee battleground. Democrats have struggled there in recent elections, hitting a new low last fall when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won a second term by nearly 20 points and carried majority-Hispanic Miami-Dade County, which a GOP gubernatorial nominee hadn’t done in 20 years. Republicans also secured a supermajority in the state legislature.”

Hot on the right

How Kevin McCarthy forged an ironclad bond with Marjorie Taylor Greene

“Days after he won his gavel in a protracted fight with hard-right Republicans, Speaker Kevin McCarthy gushed to a friend about the ironclad bond he had developed with an unlikely ally in his battle for political survival, Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia,” the NYT’s Jonathan Swan and Catie Edmondson report.

“'I will never leave that woman,' Mr. McCarthy, a California Republican, told the friend, who described the private conversation on the condition of anonymity. ‘I will always take care of her.’”

Such a declaration from Mr. McCarthy would have been unthinkable in 2021, when Ms. Greene first arrived on Capitol Hill in a swirl of controversy and provocation.”

Today in Washington

The president has nothing on his public schedule this afternoon.

In closing

Lunar New Year

What to expect as we hop into the Year of the Rabbit

“The Lunar New Year kicks off this weekend, and if you feel the past year has been a tumultuous roller coaster, you’ll be glad to hear that, as the Year of the Tiger draws to an end, the rabbit is traditionally a symbol of hope and peace, possibly signaling a calmer year ahead,” Adela Suliman reports.

Thanks for reading. See you tomorrow.

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