As Biden prepares speech focused on democracy, Trump search holds center stage

DOJ picture shows documents marked classified at Mar-a-Lago

President Joe Biden will speak Thursday in Philadelphia. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
President Joe Biden will speak Thursday in Philadelphia. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Posted August 31, 2022 at 2:04pm

President Joe Biden's prime-time televised speech Thursday outside Independence Hall will try to put the country's focus on defending democracy, as the actions of his predecessor are once again taking center stage.

"He will talk about the progress we have made as a nation to protect our democracy but how our rights and freedoms are still under attack and how we will make clear who is fighting for those rights, fighting for those freedoms, and fighting for our democracy," White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters traveling aboard Air Force One on Tuesday about the planned remarks Thursday night in Philadelphia.

The speech will follow remarks Tuesday in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and come ahead of a Labor Day trip to Pittsburgh, marking three trips by Biden in less than a week to the Keystone State, which was vital to his presidential victory in 2020 and is a key Senate battleground in the November midterm elections.

But whether Biden would like it or not, much of the attention when it comes to democratic institutions and national security will remain focused on the actions of former President Donald Trump, especially after Justice Department court filings in South Florida late Tuesday night included a photograph of materials clearly marked classified that were uncovered by the FBI during the search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago property.

Justice Department filings Tuesday night included this photo of materials marked classified that were uncovered by the FBI during the search of Mar-a-Lago. (Courtesy Federal Bureau of Investigation)

The documents were not turned over in compliance with a grand jury subpoena out of the federal district court in Washington, D.C., according to the Justice Department filing, which was in response to a request from Trump's legal team for a federal judge in South Florida to appoint a special master to review documents removed by the FBI pursuant to a search warrant.

"Through further investigation, the FBI uncovered multiple sources of evidence indicating that the response to the May 11 grand jury subpoena was incomplete and that classified documents remained at the Premises, notwithstanding the sworn certification made to the government on June 3," the filing said.

Trump has continued to argue that he actually declassified the materials in question; the Justice Department says there is no evidence of that. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., said the panel has requested, on a bipartisan basis, a damage assessment of any national security threat posed by the mishandling of this information.

Tuesday's Justice Department filing in the Mar-a-Lago search legal saga leaves unanswered many of the bigger questions, such as what documents Trump had there, what witnesses prosecutors have and whether Trump or others might face criminal charges related to obstruction of justice or unlawful retention of government documents.

Still, the former president has defenders. The Twitter account of House Judiciary Republicans, led by ranking member Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted Wednesday that the Justice Department under Biden "Knew the documents were missing for 18 months. Did nothing."

And South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a senior Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a Fox News Channel interview Sunday, “If they try to prosecute President Trump for mishandling classified information after Hillary Clinton set up a server in her basement, there literally will be riots in the street.”

"No one expects politics to be a patty-cake," Biden said in Wilkes-Barre, clearly responding to Graham on Tuesday, though not referring to him by name. "It sometimes gets mean as hell. But the idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, 'If such and such happens, there'll be blood in the street.' Where the hell are we?"

That speech was billed as a promotion of the administration's plans to battle crime and gun violence, but Biden also spoke about recent attacks on the FBI, which followed the bureau's Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago.

"But now it's sickening to see the new attacks on the FBI, threatening the life of law enforcement agents and their families for simply carrying out the law and doing their job," he said.

Trump will be holding an event of his own in Wilkes-Barre on Saturday, a "Save America" rally alongside endorsed candidates including Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano and Senate nominee Mehmet Oz.