The revelation that potentially classified material were found at think tanks previously used by President Joe Biden, has raised questions about how that compares to seizure last year of hundreds of documents marked classified from Mar-a-Lago, the Florida residence of former President Donald Trump.
A side-by-side look at the similarities and differences between the two situations:
HOW MANY CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
BIDEN: A “small number of documents with classified markings” were found on Nov. 2, 2022, in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a Washington think tank, while Biden’s personal lawyers were clearing out offices, according to Richard Sauber, special counsel of the president.
Biden maintained an office at the Penn Center after leaving the vice presidency in 2017 until shortly before launching his 2020 presidential campaign. He was affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania and continued to work independently of the Biden administration.
TRUMP: Roughly 300 classified documents — including some at the top secret level — have been recovered by Trump since he left office in January 2021.
In January 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration 15 cartons removed of documents, telling Justice Department officials that they contained “a lot” of classified material. In August, FBI agents took about 33 boxes and containers of 11,000 documents from Mar-a-Lago, including approximately 100 with classification marks, found in a storage room and office.
HOW FAST WERE THE CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS TURNED OVER?
BIDEN: His personal lawyers immediately alerted the White House counsel’s office, which notified NARA, which took possession of the documents the next day, Sauber said.
“Following this discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that all records of the Obama-Biden administration are properly in the possession of the Archives,” Sauber said.
TRUMP: A Trump representative told NARA in December 2021 that presidential records were discovered at Mar-a-Lago, nearly a year after Trump left office. Fifteen boxes of records containing some classified material were transferred from Mar-Lago to NARA in January.
A few months later, investigators from the Department of Justice and the FBI visited Mar-a-Lago to get more information about classified material taken to Florida. Federal officials also served a subpoena for some documents believed to be at the mansion.
In August 2022, FBI agents conducting a raid seized 33 boxes from Mar-a-Lago. The search came after Trump’s lawyers provided an affidavit that all government documents had been returned.
CAN CHARGES BE BROUGHT RELATED TO THE DISCOVERY OF THE DOCUMENTS?
BIDEN: Despite the discovery of classified material in Biden’s office, there is no indication that Biden himself knew of the existence of the tapes before they were released.
The administration also said the records were turned over the same day they were discovered, without any intent to conceal them. This is significant because the Justice Department has historically looked for willfulness or intent to misappropriate state secrets when deciding whether to bring criminal charges.
But even if the Justice Department found the case to be prosecutable based on the evidence, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the president is immune from prosecution during his term in office. Former special counsel Robert Mueller cited those guidelines when he decided not to reach a conclusion on whether Trump should face charges as part of his investigation into coordination between the Trump 2016 campaign and Russia.
Attorney General Merrick Garland asked U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch — one of the few U.S. attorneys retained by the Trump administration — to review the matter after the archives brought the matter to the department, according to a person familiar with the matter, but has not authorized to discuss it publicly.
TRUMP: The former president likely faces impeachment for obstructing the long-running battle to retrieve the documents themselves. And since he is no longer in office, he will not be afforded the protection from possible prosecution that would apply to a sitting president.
In November Garland appointed jack smith, a veteran war crimes prosecutor with experience in public corruption investigations to lead investigations into Trump’s withholding of classified documents, as well as key aspects of a separate investigation involving the January 6, 2021 riot and efforts to overturn the 2020 election .
WHAT DID THE PRESIDENTS SAY ABOUT THE DOCUMENTS?
BIDEN: Answering questions from reporters at a summit of North American leaders in Mexico on Tuesday, Biden said he was “surprised to learn” that the documents had been found at his think tank. He said he did not know what was in the material but took the classified documents “very seriously.”
He said his team did the right thing by handing over the documents quickly.
“They did what they had to do,” Biden said. “They immediately called the records.”
In September, speaking about the situation with Trump, Biden told CBS’s “60 Minutes.” that the discovery of top-secret documents at Mar-a-Lago raised concerns that sensitive data had been compromised and called it “irresponsible.”
TRUMP: Trump has claimed at times that he declassified the documents he took with him — though he has provided no evidence of that. He said in Fox News interview in September that the president could declassify material “even by thinking about it.”
The former president called the Mar-a-Lago search an “unannounced raid” that was “not necessary or appropriate” and represented “dark times for our nation.”
Regarding Biden, Trump weighed in on his social media site Monday, asking, “When is the FBI going to raid Joe Biden’s many homes, maybe even the White House?”
WHAT ARE THE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE DISCLOSURE OF THE DOCUMENTS?
BIDEN: While unlikely to affect the Justice Department’s decision to indict Trump in his own case, Biden’s disclosure of the document could heighten skepticism among Republicans and others already critical that politics is the basis for investigations of the former president.
There are also possible ramifications in a new GOP-controlled Congress, where Republicans are promising to launch wide-ranging investigations into the Biden administration.
Congressman Jim Jordan, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the American public deserves to know sooner about the release of Biden’s classified documents. The Ohio Republican is among House Republicans pushing for the creation of a “select subcommittee on federal firearms” within the Judiciary Committee.
Representative Mike Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, asked the US intelligence community to conduct a “damage assessment” of the documents found at the Penn Center.
TRUMP: In the immediate aftermath, Trump and his supporters seized on the Mar-a-Lago search as a partisan attack by Democrats who had long wanted to remove him from office.
During his 2024 campaign launch in November, at the same club that agents searched months earlier, Trump referred to the investigations against him, portraying himself as a “victim” of wayward prosecutors and “the rot, rot and the corruption of Washington’.
You can find Meg Kinnard at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Associated Press writers Eric Tucker in Washington and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
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