The discovery of classified documents in President Joe Biden‘s former office at the Washington think tank where he worked between 2017 and mid-2019 is a “political gift” to Donald Trump, experts have told Newsweek, but this won’t necessarily help the former president regain influence within the Republican Party.
On Tuesday, the White House confirmed a CBS report saying that the Justice Department is currently reviewing an unidentified number of classified documents that Biden’s lawyers found on November 2 at the Penn Biden Center.
The case has outraged Trump, who called for the FBI to raid Biden’s home as it did his Mar-a-Lago residence last August. Several conservative pundits and MAGA House Republicans joined the former president in his condemnation of the case, alleging that authorities won’t be persecuting Biden the same way they did Trump.
“There’s no doubt that MAGA Republicans are going to argue that Trump is being subjected to a double standard over the handling of classified documents,” Thomas Gift, associate professor of political science in the School of Public Policy at University College London, said.
While there are some parallels between the two cases, “it would be a mistake to suggest that both [Trump and Biden] hold equal culpability,” said Gift. “Still, Trump is going to use these new revelations to muddy the waters, and it’s entirely possible that he’ll be able to do so successfully. It gives Trump more ammunition to claim that he’s the victim of a politically-motivated witch-hunt.”
Biden’s case is likely to put pressure on the Justice Department, Gift believes, saying that “there’s no doubt this will ramp up the pressure against it not to pursue an indictment against Trump, lest it be accused of selective prosecution.”
William Howell, a professor in the Department of Political Science and the College at the University of Chicago, believes that the discovery of classified documents in Biden’s former office is “absolutely a political gift” to Trump, especially at such a tumultuous time within the Republican Party.
“Biden is his most likely competitor in a 2024 race (should Trump secure the Republican nomination),” Howell said. “But more to the point, it has to do with the most recent scandal with Trump, the discovery of these troves of classified information at Mar-a-Lago,” he added.
“It shifts that whole conversation away from it being one of Trump following the rules and regulations associated with classified information and cooperating with the National Archives, and instead to one of him being unfairly treated as a former president.”
But despite this “political gift” being handed to Trump likely helping him fight investigations against him, Howell thinks that the case won’t help the former president regain influence within the GOP.
“Is this going to rehabilitate his standing in the Republican Party? I suspect not, at least not directly,” Howell said.
During the tumultuous election of the 118th Congress‘ House Speaker, won by Kevin McCarthy at the 15th round of votes, Trump called for House Republicans to rally around the California Representative but was openly defied by some of his most loyal supporters, including Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz.
The November midterms were also a disappointing time for the former president, with many of the candidates he endorsed losing to their Democratic rivals.
“The main reason why Trump’s standing in the party has waned is because his own popularity and his own support—and the support shown for the people who he has endorsed during the midterm election—has gone down, it’s not on the merits of the arguments he puts forward,” Howell said.
“It’s about the political influence that he wields. And so insofar as the larger public is tired of Trump and they’re tired of the lies about the 2020 election, and they think it’s time to move on—and therefore are less likely to stand beside him and follow his direction—then Trump’s going to wield less influence.
“And that can be understood apart from the merits of the long argument that he’s been making for years and years, which is he’s been mistreated.”
Newsweek reached out to Trump’s team for comment.