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President Obama Meets With President-Elect Donald Trump In The Oval Office Of White House
Barack Obama and Donald Trump following a meeting in the Oval Office on November 10, 2016 in Washington, D.C.Win McNamee / Getty Images, file

Republicans foolishly try to roll out the ‘what about Obama’ tack

Desperate for new talking points, Republicans are arguing that Barack Obama may also have improperly taken documents. Reality proves otherwise.


As Attorney General Merrick Garland wrapped up his brief remarks yesterday afternoon, Donald Trump wasted no time in responding. In fact, the former president, by way of his Twitter-like platform, pushed back immediately — in a decidedly Trump-like way.

“I continue to ask, what happened to the 33 Million pages of documents taken to Chicago by President Obama?” the Republican wrote. “The Fake News Media refuses to talk about that. They want it CANCELED!”

It followed a similar message Trump published earlier in the day. “What happened to the 30 million pages of documents taken from the White House to Chicago by Barack Hussein Obama?” the former president asked. “He refused to give them back! What is going on? This act was strongly at odds with NARA. Will they be breaking into Obama’s ‘mansion’ in Martha’s Vineyard?”

Other prominent Republicans stuck to the script. “They shipped 30 million pages of sensitive and possibly classified materials to Chicago, and, by the way, he has yet to return any of it to the National Archives. Not one page,” Fox News’ Sean Hannity claimed. “So is his house about to get raided?”

Harmeet Dhillon, a former Trump campaign legal adviser, added on Fox News, “Are there SWAT teams descending on Chicago to get those documents? No. And so the double standard and triple standard here is very apparent.”

To a very real extent, it’s a little pitiful to see Republicans, unable to think of anything legitimate or persuasive, resort to whataboutism — or to the point, lazy whataboutism.

But in case your weird uncle who consumes conservative media all day sends you all-caps emails about this, let’s note for the record that the Obama-related claims are demonstrably absurd. As the Washington Post explained yesterday:

As was reported back in late 2016, the Obama team was transferring the records to Chicago through the National Archives, which legally owns the documents once a president leaves office. Once the documents ultimately reached a warehouse in Chicago, the Obama Foundation was then due to pay the National Archives and Record Administration to digitize the documents. The lengthiness of that process aside, there isn’t the faintest hint of legal violations. There is no evidence that Obama has hidden anything from the National Archives or that he didn’t go through the processes required to share and protect those documents once they leave Washington.

This need not be complicated: Obama worked with the National Archives; Trump worked around the National Archives.

Obama didn’t improperly take anything; Trump improperly took several boxes’ worth of materials, including highly sensitive national security documents.

There is simply nothing legitimate about this entire line of argument. It’s not only insulting to Americans’ intelligence, it reeks of desperation.

Update: Just as I was publishing this, Trump issued a written statement that read, “President Barack Hussein Obama kept 33 million pages of documents, much of them classified. How many of them pertained to nuclear? Word is, lots!”

This has all the sophistication of someone who generally writes with crayons, but more importantly, it seemed to hint at a possible concession that Trump did take nuclear-related materials.

Second Update: The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) issued a written statement this afternoon, making clear that Trump's lying.