(WASHINGTON) — The Senate will once again consider whether to approve President Joe Biden’s nominee to helm the federal agency responsible for maintaining and keeping record of classified documents — as Congress continues to grapple with the fallout over Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence all retaining classified materials while out of office.
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is scheduled on Tuesday to consider the nomination of Colleen Shogan to be the national archivist. Her job description would include management of some of the nation’s most important records, such as classified documents.
Shogan’s hearing comes on the same day that congressional leaders are set to receive a long-anticipated briefing from U.S. officials on the classified documents that have all been found in Biden, Trump and Pence’s possession since last year (in Biden’s case, from his time as a senator and vice president).
Shogan is a career government servant whose resume includes work at the Library of Congress and the White House Historical Association, yet her nomination was caught up last Congress in the ongoing political fight over improper handling of classified documents and subsequent concern among Republicans that the National Archives has become politicized.
“I think there are concerns, there’s a lot of concerns with what is going on at the archives,” Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, the top Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee, said Monday. “We do want some assurances that people are going to be treated fairly on classified information.”
During a September hearing before the committee, just one month after news first broke that the FBI had searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property in search of classified documents, some Republicans used Shogan’s appearance as an opportunity to press her about what they perceived as the politicization of the National Archives.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., asked Shogan about the archives’ involvement in the August raid, questioning why the agency’s original document inquiry was turned over to the FBI.
“In an unusual situation, it wasn’t just the FBI carrying out the raid, but it was a request of the National Archives to be able to engage with these records to then trigger something with the FBI,” Lankford said to Shogan. “A raid of a former president’s house is unprecedented, and it puts the entire process on full display to be able to say: How does this happen? Why does this happen? Everyone gets questions on it.”
Shogan was not employed by the National Archives during the Mar-a-Lago search and said she had not been briefed on it as the nominee for her post. She told Lankford she had “no information” about the decision of “sequence of events.” Court documents show the federal government engaged in a lengthy back-and-forth with Trump to retrieve some presidential records he kept from the White House.
“As I understand it, when there is some concern about missing or damaged records in the general at the National Archives, at that point in time, to retrieve the records there is a voluntary exchange of communication with those individuals,” Shogan told Lankford in September. “And as I understand it — once again, I don’t have any past knowledge of this — the vast majority of the time the records are recovered and retrieved.”
During that same hearing, Committee Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., defended Shogan’s independence, touting her as an “extremely well-qualified” candidate for the role.
“In our meetings about your nomination you have demonstrated keen judgement, nonpartisan independence and the necessary capabilities to succeed in this challenging role,” Peters said then.
The committee ultimately deadlocked on Shogan’s nomination, voting 7-7 on whether to advance her to a vote on the Senate floor.
Under the power-sharing agreement of the then-evenly divided chamber, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer could have forced a full vote on Shogan’s nomination. But he never did, leaving vacant a role that has not had a permanent appointee since April 2022.
Biden renominated her for the position, teeing up yet another potentially politically driven showdown on Tuesday.
But the political landscape concerning classified documents has changed drastically since Shogan last appeared before the committee: In the intervening months, classified records have been found at residences for both Biden and Pence — forcing a new bipartisan scrutiny of how issues like this are handled.
During Shogan’s September hearing, many Republicans also took issue with a 2007 academic article she wrote which analyzed presidential speeches and examined “anti-intellectualism” in GOP presidencies.
Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., took her to task over her analysis.
“You wrote an article saying basically that Republican voters are stupid, that Republican presidents deliberately appeal to anti-intellectualism,” he said.
Yet Shogan stood by her writing. She also repeatedly vowed before the panel to be nonpartisan.
Hawley was not convinced. He said Monday that he’ll likely vote against Shogan again this time around.
“What you want in this role is somebody who is just an archivist, who is just nonpartisan, wants to do the job. The archives has become hugely political,” Hawley said. “That agency needs to be depoliticized, they just need to be able to do their job.”
Lawmakers seek more answers on documents
In the background of Shogan’s nomination hearing is an ongoing effort by the Senate’s intelligence panel to learn more about the contents of classified documents recovered from Biden, Trump and Pence.
U.S. officials are expected to brief congressional leaders, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Mark Warner and Vice Chair Marco Rubio, on Tuesday to provide more information on the nature of the records.
That briefing will stop short of giving the lawmakers access to the originally seized documents, something that Warner and Rubio have both demanded.
Peters, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, has also been tasked by Democratic leadership to work on legislation that could change the way federal records are managed. His efforts on that began last year, during a hearing held on presidential records reform before any of the classified documents were discovered.
It’s unclear if any legislative effort would garner bipartisan support.
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