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Author Chris Whipple on his inside look at the Biden White House

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Let's turn now to journalist and author Chris Whipple. His latest book looks at the Biden White House based on interviews with Chief of Staff Ron Klain and others in the administration. It's titled "The Fight Of His Life." And it's out tomorrow. Good morning.

CHRIS WHIPPLE: Good to be with you.

FADEL: So obviously, you must know this White House quite well. How significant is this classified documents case for the Biden presidency and the job of leading a country that is so deeply divided?

WHIPPLE: Well, I don't think there's any question about the fact that Joe Biden is headed into his third year with the wind at his back. But obviously, this does not help. This has not been the finest hour for Joe Biden and his team. They've looked evasive with the drip, drip, drip of information that keeps coming out. And it's surprising because I spent two years interviewing almost all of Joe Biden's inner circle for my book. And while there's been plenty of drama - from the Afghanistan fiasco to his fraught relationship with the Secret Service, which I report about, to even troubles with Kamala Harris behind closed doors - this White House is usually pretty surefooted in a crisis. And it's been flat-footed here, I think. And I think it's important for them to step up their game because this goes to the heart of one of Joe Biden's - arguably Joe Biden's greatest asset, which is trust. And I think they need to really get a grip on this.

FADEL: Now, Biden has been intensely critical of Trump's mishandling of classified documents. And obviously, this is a very different case, about 20 documents found that appear to have been disclosed to authorities right away versus hundreds of documents in the Trump case, including many that were withheld from authorities. But it still begs the question, how did Biden and his staff let this slip?

WHIPPLE: Well, look; first of all, this is not even remotely comparable to Trump's shameless...

FADEL: Right.

WHIPPLE: ...Flouting of the law and obstruction of the Department of Justice trying to get the documents back. So there's really no comparison here in that respect. But, look; it's a big political problem. It's hard to know how it happened. I think there really needs to be a much better process for all presidents, I think, in handling of classified documents. But I think this really makes it difficult, if not impossible, for the Department of Justice to prosecute Trump over the Mar-a-Lago documents because no matter how much anybody says this is all about the facts and the law, it is inarguably a political decision. And that's going to be fraught now. It's hard to imagine Merrick Garland or Jack Smith not wondering at this point if a jury will find Trump's behavior all that egregious when documents keep popping up every other day in Joe Biden's houses.

FADEL: Now, the president is widely expected to announce his reelection bid in the coming months. Can he afford a scandal like this if he does choose to run again?

WHIPPLE: Well, scandal is a pretty big, scary word to use for this. You know, I think this is a - more of a kerfuffle at this point. I think that, you know, in all likelihood, given the facts that we now know, that the special counsel will close this out at some point. So he's got to get past it. But I think, at the same time, as I said, I think they need to raise their game. It's - he can't afford to continue to make inconsistent statements. And I think it's going to be a real challenge now because Bob Bauer, the attorney who is very much in charge, it seems, is a guy who's not going to want the White House to be out there sharing lots of information. And the White House - it's going to be a real balancing act for Joe Biden to find that balance of sharing enough information without getting into trouble with the investigation.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, Republicans are criticizing the White House for what it's calling a lack of transparency on this issue. Is that a fair criticism?

WHIPPLE: Well, it's fair only to the extent that, you know, they've had to be very careful, given the circumstances.

FADEL: That's journalist and author Chris Whipple. His new book, which looks at the Biden White House, "The Fight Of His Life," comes out tomorrow. Thanks so much for your time.

WHIPPLE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.