Democrats publicly and privately conceded that the stunning development was at best an unwelcome distraction at an inopportune time that muddies the case against Donald Trump. The Republican former president is facing a special counsel of his own and is under federal criminal investigation for his handling of classified documents and other potential transgressions.
There are major differences between the two cases. Most notably, there is no suggestion that Biden purposefully tried to prevent the documents discovered at his home or office from being turned over or that he was even aware of their presence. Trump, who is being probed for potentially obstructing investigators, also had far more classified documents in his possession. But Thursday’s appointment of a special counsel nonetheless thrusts legal uncertainty over the sitting president and could revive debate among Democrats about the wisdom of him seeking a second term. “No one’s going to say this is helpful,” veteran Democratic strategist James Carville said. “It’s pretty evident that’s not the case.”
As Democrats recoiled into a defensive posture, Trump’s would-be Republican rivals in 2024 acknowledged that the contours of the upcoming race had shifted. Trump “is the luckiest man in American politics,” said John Bolton, who served as NSA under Trump. “This ought to be disqualifying to both of them.”
Thus begins a messy election season in which the current and former presidents of the US are both under investigation by special counsels as they gear up for a potential rematch in 2024. Many voters in both parties were already calling for a new generation of leadership to emerge in the nascent presidential contest. Such calls are now growing louder. “On many political fronts, Biden’s touted 2024 campaign is potentially vulnerable,” said Norman Soloman, a progressive Democrat who leads the so-called Don’t Run Joe campaign. “Democrats and the country as a whole would be much better off this year and next if he’s not running for president.” Nina Turner, who chaired Biden rival Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, said she hopes a “freedom-fighting progressive” mounts a primary challenge against Biden in 2024. “The American people certainly deserve better choices – Republicans and Democrats. We shouldn’t have these men shoved down our throats.”
To be clear, there are stark differences between the cases. Roughly 300 records with classification markings were recovered from Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach, home. The search of Trump’s property was the culmination of months of back-and-forth between the government and Trump’s representatives, who repeatedly resisted efforts to return the missing documents. And the justice department says classified documents were “likely concealed and removed” from a storage room as part of what they allege was an effort to obstruct investigation. Trump, meanwhile, used the news to undermine the investigation into his actions. “It’s over. When all of these documents started coming out and Biden had them, it really changed the complexion and the intensity they were showing to me…”