One of the last actions of the outgoing Democratic majority in the House of Representatives was the House Ways and Means Committee’s vote to release six years’ worth of former President Donald Trump’s tax returns. They had finally caught their white whale after more than six years of the real estate mogul turned politician refusing to disclose them.
But like the dog that caught the car, the Democrats and their media sympathizers now are not sure what they have, nor are they sure what to do with it. So far, there has been no revelation of criminal activity, improper financial activity with Russia, or anything remotely reaching the nefarious plots of a Lex Luthor supervillain. Once again, their narrative is falling flat.
The House Republicans, meanwhile, are promising a series of investigations into the Biden Administration, various federal agencies’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the FBI’s handling of the Hunter Biden laptop. But, if they wanted to grab it, there was much more low-hanging fruit. Republicans could, for example, consider the unsealing of Joe Biden’s U.S. Senate records currently stored at the University of Delaware and some of his vice presidential records held at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C.
In 2012, Biden “donated” his Senate records to his alma mater. At the time, it seemed like an unremarkable gesture given that he was considered to be near the end of his political career and unlikely to run for president a third time after failed bids in 1988 and 2008 and with Hillary Clinton the odds-on favorite to win the 2016 nomination. But in 2019, he announced he would be challenging Donald Trump for president, and the files became relevant again. Yet UD did not make the files public, even though, according to reports, the body of material includes 1,850 boxes of paper and 415 gigabytes of digital information.
The only reason the issue was raised at all during the 2020 election had to do with the allegation of sexual assault against Biden made public by former congressional aide Tara Reade in April of that year. The Biden campaign maintained throughout that period that personnel files and complaints would not be contained within these records.
Another rationale they had for denying access was that correspondence and communications within the files could be “taken out of context.” This is the equivalent of saying that a painting should not be shown in a museum because a photographer could focus on a small section and crop out the rest, presenting the smaller photo as the full painting. It is possible that no mention of the Reade complaint is contained in those records. Then again, it’s possible that hers is one of several complaints not publicly disclosed during Biden’s years in the Senate.
Until 2018, when the #MeToo movement toppled a number of veteran lawmakers of both houses and parties, senators and members of Congress were privileged to have out-of-court legal settlements or court awards of sexual harassment claims paid for by Congress without that information being made public. In only some cases, such as that of former Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), did the public learn that tax money had been paid out to settle claims.
The Tara Reade accusation would not be the only reason that Biden’s Senate records could be of interest, however. As left-wing Atlantic contributor Peter Beinart wrote at the time, the records likely would shed light on a number of activities from Biden’s 36 years in office: the 1994 crime bill of which Biden was an architect, for example, or the Iraq War vote of 2002. Perhaps we could learn more about the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings of 1991 when Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment and Biden led the opposition against him.
But apart from some exceptions, the media has been remarkably uninterested in having these records unsealed in what can only be called a conscious shrugging of shoulders when it comes to their supposed job of informing the public about the background of their presidential candidates.
NARA has also resisted disclosing information it holds regarding Biden’s official communications during his time as vice president with his son Hunter and brother James, the official travel by these two relatives, and records concerning his involvement in their business dealings. This issue is currently tied up in litigation between the NARA and Stephen Miller’s America First Legal foundation.
Some details of these matters have come out from Hunter Biden’s laptop and the statements of former business associate Tony Bobulinski. But the White House has continuously maintained throughout this affair that Joe Biden was unaware and uninvolved in any dealings by either his son or brother. Any revelation to the contrary through official documents from his time as vice president could damage his ability to deny involvement and separate Hunter’s legal troubles from his own.
NARA has explained its refusal to release the records by claiming “there is no widespread and exceptional media interest in these matters.”
As the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.) has an opportunity, at a minimum, to subpoena the sealed documents at the University of Delaware and NARA as one of the first volleys of any inquiries. The Trump tax returns have set a remarkable precedent for the strength of congressional committee subpoenas in accessing the personal affairs of a president. In this case, however, the information is not private and concerns Biden’s official business while serving in the U.S. Senate and Obama Administration. Under the circumstances, the White House, the National Archives, and the University of Delaware would have a tough time denying the disclosures in the face of a congressional inquiry.