Then-Vice President-elect Mike Pence carries a briefing binder as he arrives at Trump Tower, Nov. 15, 2016, in New York. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / AP

The BDN Editorial Board operates independently from the newsroom, and does not set policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

At this point, is there anyone who doesn’t have classified documents?

We’re only half kidding. The news on Tuesday that former Vice President Mike Pence has joined current President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump in having classified documents discovered at their home or office is not just vexing. It is frankly infuriating.

This should not be happening. It would almost be funny, if it wasn’t so serious. It’s like Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First,” except with some of the country’s most sensitive information.

Somewhere around 30 documents with classified markings have been found between Biden’s home and an office. Federal officials have recovered roughly 300 documents marked classified documents from Trump. A Pence lawyer discovered roughly a dozen such documents at the former vice president’s home in Indiana. Biden and Trump each have special counsels investigating them.

Biden has implausibly said he has “no regrets” about his handling of classified documents and the response from him and his team after the multiple discoveries. Trump has predictably and irresponsibly called the investigation into him a “witch hunt.” They both are wrong. None of these investigations are witch hunts, and each of these former top executives should have regrets.

These are all different situations, to be sure, but none of them are good. As we’ve already said, if anyone has broken the law in these instances, regardless of whether they are current or former executive branch leaders, there must be consequences.

As many other people have already pointed out, including a BDN letter writer, there also clearly needs to be a reassessment of the executive branch’s process for safeguarding classified documents in the first place. Something is obviously wrong, either with the process or its enforcement, if former presidents and vice presidents (or members of their staff) are mishandling classified documents almost as a matter of practice — whether intentionally or not.

Though not required to, every single other former president or vice president should ask investigators to go through their homes, offices and libraries right now to make sure that they aren’t wrongly holding on to any classified materials. It might sound hyperbolic, but it is what the current situation calls for.

Both of Maine’s U.S. senators serve on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which means they both are involved in congressional oversight of the intelligence community and both have access to some classified materials themselves. So we asked their offices if more needs to be done to review or rework the system for safeguarding these materials, particularly at the end of a presidential administration.

“The storage of classified documents outside of a designated, secure facility by any former or current officeholder is a serious matter,” Sen. Susan Collins told the BDN editorial board in a statement. “The Senate Intelligence Committee on which I serve has been in contact with both the Department of Justice and the Director of National Intelligence to learn more about the recent discoveries of classified documents and better understand why this keeps happening, what the security implications are, and what steps must be taken to avoid these situations in the future.”

We also asked the senators about their handling of classified documents as members of the committee.

 

“As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I do not take home classified documents and instead review them solely within secure facilities,” Collins added.

“As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I find these discoveries puzzling because I come in contact with classified materials on a regular basis and am always required to return them before leaving the secure facility,” Sen. Angus King told the editorial board in a statement. “It’s clear that procedures need to be established in the executive branch to restrict the movement of these documents, and examine which documents are going to be kept at the end of a president or vice president’s term. Additionally, legitimate justification should be provided if any documents are kept.”

We recognize that being president or vice president is different from being a U.S. senator. But if the Senate Intelligence Committee can safeguard classified information, then the executive branch must be able to take steps to make sure that this information isn’t turning up in homes, offices and garages on what currently seems like a daily basis.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...