Julie McDonald Commentary: Why Can’t Elected Politicians Protect Classified Documents?


One of the federal government’s primary roles as outlined in the U.S. Constitution is national security, establishing and maintaining a military, so it stands to reason our leaders would do everything they could to protect it.

Or so you’d think.

Now President Joseph Biden, like his predecessor former President Donald Trump, has left classified documents in places they don’t belong — in his former Washington, D.C., office and in the garage at his private home in Delaware.

After eight years in the vice presidential office under President Barack Obama, the Biden team packed up classified paperwork that should have gone to the National Archives for security and eventual release to the public.

Although his legal team is cooperating with the Department of Justice to put the paperwork where presidential records belong — at the National Archives — it never should have happened.

In early November, I wrote a column condemning politicians for sloppy mishandling of classified public documents — President Bill Clinton’s former National Security Advisor Sandy Burger, who removed classified papers from the National Archives by stuffing them into his socks and pants; former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who used her personal email for classified work, irresponsibly exposed classified information in a private email system that could be easily hacked, and failed to retain copies of those emails; and Trump for taking 13 boxes of restricted and even top-secret documents to Mar-a-Lago without regard for how those papers could jeopardize national security if they wound up in the wrong hands.

Now we can add President Biden to the list.

One stark difference stands out, though. Biden’s team handed over the documents to the National Archives and informed the Department of Justice; Trump fought for eight months to keep the documents and defied a government subpoena to return them.

Regardless, I have to wonder whether 20th century politicians were as sloppy in the handling of classified documents, leaving them available for enemies of the country to access? 

Maybe they were, but we just didn’t hear about it.

Is it too much to ask our politicians to take better care of the public trust we’ve given them? It shouldn’t be. Transparency in government is crucial to democracy.

Special counsels for the Justice Department are investigating both Trump and Biden for the “possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records.” 

I don’t know what they’ll discover, but the investigations never should have been necessary.



The evening of Jan. 4, after shopping in Olympia and Centralia, I drove toward Toledo in a drizzly rain, but after turning south onto Jackson Highway at Mary’s Corner, I saw green fir limbs littering the road. We hadn’t noticed any wind up north, just a bit of rain, but after seeing the debris, I slowed down driving through Lewis and Clark State Park — thank goodness.

As we rounded a curve, I hit the brakes. A tree covered both lanes of the highway. It looked like it had just toppled, which has always worried me driving through the park. In fact, I wrote a column about it in January 2011, when I was assured that tree surveys occur two or three times a year and the Lewis County Public Works Department partners with park employees to identify “danger trees” that might topple.

After putting on the emergency flashers, I stepped out of the car to pull limbs from the highway, noticing headlights of a northbound car stopped on the northbound side.

Suddenly, I saw lights from a car barreling down the highway and ran to the middle of the road, waving my arms. I didn’t want my car rear-ended, especially with my kids inside.

The car rolled to a stop, did a U-turn, and drove away. I climbed back inside my car and did the same while calling 911 to report the fallen tree, which they’d already heard about.

I returned to the White Pass Highway and drove to Oyler Road, turning south, still baffled as we had felt no breeze, but again I saw limbs on the road. As we passed another car, it slowed. I did too, and the driver backed up to say, “There’s a tree on the road in your lane. I almost hit it.”

I thanked him and drove slowly to avoid the top of a fallen tree protruding onto the road and flashed my lights at an oncoming driver in warning. 

We arrived home to discover our lights knocked out by the northern extension of a California bomb cyclone that had swept through the region. We lost power for only about 15 minutes, although the atmospheric river storm with wind gusts above 50 mph knocked out power to 3,500 in East Lewis County.


NW Sports Hub

When I wrote last week about the NW Sports Hub in Centralia, I wasn’t sure whether the 30,000-square-foot expansion proposed in 2020 had taken place. Indeed it had, adding four more basketball courts or eight volleyball courts in what is called the annex building and increasing the Hub’s total square footage to 106,500.


IWW Memorial Update

A GoFundMe campaign for the Centralia IWW Monument received a $5,000 boost last week from Eduardo Moreno, special assistant to the Group Health Foundation’s chief executive officer. Mike Garrison, an IWW member who advocated relentlessly for permission to erect a two- by three-foot bronze plaque in Washington Park to commemorate and honor the Wobblies who died or were imprisoned in the wake of the Nov. 11, 1919, Centralia Tragedy, said a note provided with the donation stated, “Your work to uplift the stories and experiences in Centralia resonated with our efforts to connect with organizations working to help communities heal from past wrongs and injustices.” The $5,000 donation brought the total raised to $7,969 of the $20,000 goal. Other top donors are Donna Page, who gave $500 last week, and Tom Copeland, author of Elmer Smith and the Centralia Tragedy of 1919, who donated $250 last month. The memorial plaque fundraising account can be found at https://www.gofundme.com/f/centralia-iww-monument-fund.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.