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Pages from a Justice Department court filing on Aug. 30, 2022, in Donald Trump's court case seeking a special master to review the documents seized during the Aug. 8, 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago. (AP) Pages from a Justice Department court filing on Aug. 30, 2022, in Donald Trump's court case seeking a special master to review the documents seized during the Aug. 8, 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago. (AP)

Pages from a Justice Department court filing on Aug. 30, 2022, in Donald Trump's court case seeking a special master to review the documents seized during the Aug. 8, 2022 search of Mar-a-Lago. (AP)

Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu
By Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu May 17, 2024

Joe Biden didn’t set up Donald Trump with classified documents

If Your Time is short

  • Emails released from the General Services Administration show the federal agency was not involved in packing the documents.

  • The charges against Trump for mishandling classified documents stem from his purported refusal to hand them back when the federal government requested them.

A conservative podcaster said that the Biden administration framed former President Donald Trump by shipping boxes of classified documents to his home. But that's false.

During a May 1 Facebook livestream of "The Benny Show" podcast, host Benny Johnson claimed: "Those classified documents, those stolen documents, the nuclear codes’" he said, gesturing with air quotes, "they were all placed there by the government." He added: "The government had possession of them, and they shipped them to Trump. … They are planting the evidence."

The livestream’s caption claimed Biden was responsible: "Bombshell: Biden had pallets of classified docs sent to Mar-a-Lago before FBI raid!. Trump was setup."

The Facebook video was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook, Threads, and Instagram.)

PolitiFact messaged Johnson by email and through an online contact form for "The Benny Show," but received no response.

Similar claims to Johnson’s have surfaced on TikTok. One post claimed Special Counsel Jack Smith, who is prosecuting Trump in Florida for allegedly retaining classified documents, "redacted this information knowing it shows that Biden could have sent the documents to Trump instead of Trump taking the documents."

This claim is not new: Trump said in a 2022 Fox News interview that he wasn’t responsible for the classified documents found at his Florida home because the General Services Administration shipped them there, giving the impression that the agency knew its contents and was culpable. (The General Services Administration is a federal agency, composed of civil servants, that handles presidential transition logistics.)

But this claim has been debunked by news outlets after a review of emails, between Trump’s transition team and the civil servants, which Bloomberg News obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

PolitiFact also read the emails related to the documents’ packing and transportation. The emails show the agency did not pack the boxes, but rather handled shipping costs from a warehouse just outside of Washington, D.C., to Palm Beach, Florida.

It is unclear from the emails whether the items shipped contained classified documents. However, in the emails, the General Services Administration’s officials told Trump transition officials that if they had items that were "considered property of the Federal Government then it should go to NARA or GSA." (NARA stands for National Archives and Records Administration.)

Boxes of records from the indictment against former President Donald Trump sit Nov. 12, 2021, in a storage room at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. (Justice Department via AP)

In a statement, the General Services Administration told PolitiFact: "Consistent with the typical division of responsibilities between GSA and outgoing Presidents, members of the outgoing presidential transition team and their volunteers were responsible for packing items from the outgoing transition space into boxes. … GSA did not examine the contents of the boxes and, accordingly, had no knowledge of the contents prior to shipping."

Aside from logistics concerning shipment, the emails also show the General Services Administration officials discussing with Trump’s team the limitations on the use of public funds. In one exchange, officials declined to pay for the shipment of a large portrait of Trump because that was considered "personal property."

The Presidential Transition Act, which governs the presidential transfer of power, allows the General Services Administration to serve the outgoing team for seven months, which ended July 21, 2021, for Trump.

The emails show that the Trump transition team signed a memorandum of understanding with the General Services Administration on Jan. 11, 2021, and the team was allocated about $2 million to pay for the logistics and other services needed for "concluding the affairs of their terms of office."

General Services Administration’s role in presidential transitions

The General Services Administration is "at the heart of presidential transition," said Martha Joynt Kumar, emeritus professor of political science at Towson University and director of the White House Transition Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group of presidency scholars. 

"GSA would be involved in getting the office space, making sure that the nominated candidates … have their space and that the spaces are secure. They provide supplies and technology," she said. But when it comes to presidential records, that role belongs to the National Archives, she added.

Trump’s Florida charges

The FBI searched  Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, estate, Aug. 8, 2022, after the National Archives and Records Administration’s repeated attempts to retrieve classified documents from Trump proved futile.

In June 2023, a grand jury indicted Trump for alleged mishandling of classified documents. It is unclear when the case will go to trial, and it’s possible it won’t be before Election Day, Nov. 5.

Our ruling

Johnson claimed, "Bombshell: Biden had pallets of classified docs sent to Mar-a-Lago before FBI raid! Trump was setup."

Email records do not show that Biden was involved in shipping boxes of documents to Mar-a-Lago.

We rate the claim that Biden set up Trump with classified documents sent to his Florida home False.

RELATED: Read all of PolitiFact’s coverage on Donald Trump indictments

Our Sources

Facebook post, May 1, 2024

Bloomberg News, Trump Says US Agency Packed Top-Secret Documents. These Emails Suggest Otherwise, Oct. 5, 2022 

General Services Administration, 2021 Moving Support - Freedom of Information Act, accessed May 7, 2024

PolitiFact, The Trump documents indictment: Which charges are most serious? Can he still run in 2024?, Jun. 9, 2023

The Washington Post, Trumpworld has a new nonsensical theory of his document-case innocence, April 30, 2024

Congressional Research Service, Presidential Transition Act: Provisions and Funding, Feb. 21, 2024

CBS News, Timeline: The government's efforts to get sensitive documents back from Trump's Mar-a-Lago, Jun. 9, 2023

ABC News, Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate raided by FBI agents, sources confirm, Aug. 8, 2022

CNN, Newly released emails debunk Trump and allies’ attempts to blame the GSA for packing boxes that ended up in Mar-a-Lago, Oct. 10, 2022

NPR, Trump says FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida, Aug. 9, 2022

CNN, Federal judge indefinitely postpones Trump classified documents trial, May 7, 2024

The Federalist, Federal Agency Had ‘Pallets’ Of Documents Sent To Mar-A-Lago One Year Before DOJ Raid, April 30, 2024

Business Insider, Trump said the FBI found classified documents at his home because federal workers packed them. But emails Bloomberg got show boxes were already packed when movers arrived, Oct. 5, 2022

The Washington Post, How Trump jettisoned restraints at Mar-a-Lago and prompted legal peril, Dec. 18, 2022

PolitiFact, Read the Mar-a-Lago search warrant, what agents took, Aug. 12, 2022

National Archives and Records Administration, Records Responsive FOIA requests related to Former President Trump's return of 15 boxes of records from Mar-a-Lago, accessed May 8, 2024

Fox News, 'Hannity' with Donald Trump on NY AG lawsuit, Mar-a-lago raid, Sep. 21, 2022

Courthouse News Service, Donald Trump indicted by a Florida grand jury, Jun. 8, 2023

TikTok post (archived link), April 30, 2024

Email exchange with General Services Administration staff, May 16, 2024

Phone interview with Martha Joynt Kumar, May 16, 2024

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Joe Biden didn’t set up Donald Trump with classified documents

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