What a week for President Joe Biden! Whatever the reason(s) for the searches and investigations and the revelations that the president stored classified documents in several unsecured places (and do not be fooled, this wasn't merely an accidental error), it appears that Mr. Biden may finally be experiencing the consequences of his “irresponsibility.” And it isn't just about the criminal consequences of his mishandling of classified documents, but additional ethical concerns regarding the handling of his mishandling.
Fox News reported that the government watchdog group Protect the Public's Trust (PPT) has submitted an ethics complaint to the U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE).
The PPT complaint raises questions about whether the use of the White House Counsel’s Office to aid Biden with an issue involving him as a citizen who is facing possible prosecution is a waste of taxpayer funds and a source of conflicts of interest:
“Taxpayer resources may have been inappropriately used by senior White House lawyers, including Special Counsel to the President Richard Sauber, to personally benefit Joe Biden. We further believe that the apparent representation of Mr. Biden by the White House Counsel’s Office in this matter creates an untenable conflict of interest for that office. The result, intended or not, could be to reduce transparency into the mishandling of state secrets and foreclose disclosure of communications between White House Counsel staff while acting on behalf of Joe Biden in his capacity as a citizen facing the prospect of criminal prosecution.”
In addition to laying out the fundamental legal and factual basis for these concerns, the complaint further states:
“The Office of White House Counsel advises the President in his capacity as President; its standard ‘client’ is the Office of the President, and it typically represents the interests of the institution of the presidency. As such, it is responsible for advising on all legal aspects of policy questions; legal issues arising in connection with the president’s decision to sign or veto legislation, ethical questions, financial disclosures; and conflicts of interest during employment and post-employment. The counsel’s office also helps define the line between official and political activities, oversees executive appointments and judicial selection, handles presidential pardons, reviews legislation and presidential statements, and handles lawsuits against the president in his role as president, as well as serving as the White House contact for the Department of Justice.
“The White House Counsel’s Office is not the President’s personal law firm. It does not represent the President in purely personal matters that are separate from his role as President.”
PPT Director Michael Chamberlain told Fox News Digital:
“The American public will not tolerate a two-tiered system of justice—with well-connected insiders subject to a lower standard of scrutiny than the normal citizen.
“President Biden promised the most ethical and transparent administration in history…. If the White House compounded a scandal involving possible mishandling of classified documents by improperly using taxpayer resources for his personal benefit and putting White House attorneys in positions that created conflicts of interest, we could be witnessing a serious betrayal of the public’s already-plummeting trust.”
In addition, said Chamberlain, “it also creates the specter of possible obstruction of a congressional investigation, depending on the legal basis for the intervention and any future privileges claimed by the White House on this escalating scandal.”
This raises questions for the leaders of Congress:
“House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, weighed in on the complaint, asking why the president’s special counsel was with Department of Justice (DOJ) officials who were gathering the classified documents.
“‘Why was White House Special Counsel Richard Sauber accompanying DOJ officials while they collected classified documents at the Biden residence?’ Jordan asked. ‘Mr. Sauber’s role raises serious concerns about the integrity of the Justice Department’s investigation.’”
In a period when confidence in the Department of Justice (DOJ) is already at risk, these apparent conflicts of interest further undermine confidence in the justice system.
What action the OGE will take to address the complaint is yet to be determined.