U.S.

Biden has faced sharp questions since the documents were leaked




CNN

President Joe Biden is facing sharp new questions about his work with classified documents as he prepares for a summit with the leaders of America’s neighboring nations.

News that several classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president had been discovered last fall in his private office in Washington, D.C., broke moments after the president’s motorcade rolled into National Palace in Mexico Cityin a visit that marks the first visit by a US president to Mexico since 2014.

Biden’s lawyers say they discovered the government materials in November while closing a Washington, D.C., office that Biden used as part of his relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, where he was a professor emeritus from 2017 to 2019.

Fewer than a dozen classified documents were found in the office, another source told CNN. It is not clear what the documents refer to or why they were taken to Biden’s personal office. The classified materials included some top-secret files designated “sensitive classified information,” also known as SCI, which is used for highly sensitive information obtained from intelligence sources.

Federal officials are required by law to give up official documents and classified records when their government service ends.

As news of the classified documents quickly absorbed attention at home, Biden was busy starting a long-awaited bilateral meeting with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, where immigration is expected to be among the most discussed issues.

As the moment unfolded, a senior administration official traveling with the president told CNN that Biden had been in meetings all afternoon before the extended bilateral meeting with his counterpart.

“Nothing has changed in his schedule,” the official said. “He’s focused on the summit and meetings with our closest neighbors.”

As to whether advisers have discussed the issue of classified documents during Biden’s visit to Mexico so far, this official said that, to their knowledge, that has not happened.

Meanwhile, asked by reporters in the room before the bilateral meeting for a response to the classified documents, Biden remained quiet and at one point appeared to smile as the shouting reporters were ushered out of the room. Seated to Biden’s left during his meeting with the Mexican president: Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has asked the U.S. attorney in Chicago to review the matter, a source familiar with the matter told CNN, a process that is still in its preliminary stages.

The U.S. Attorney in Chicago, John Lausch Jr., was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2017.

A source familiar with the matter told CNN that Biden is not yet aware of what is contained in the actual documents. White House officials, who have gone to great lengths to avoid any real or perceived efforts to influence the Justice Department, are likely to maintain that position with this particular review.

Biden did not know the classified documents were in the office and did not become aware of them until his personal lawyers reported their existence to the White House counsel’s office, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.

Richard Sauber, a special adviser to Biden, said in a statement that the White House is cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice.

“The documents were discovered when the president’s personal attorneys were packing files stored in a locked closet in preparation for vacating office space at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C.,” Sauber said in a statement. “The president used this space intermittently from mid-2017 until the start of the 2020 campaign. On the day of this discovery, November 2, 2022, the White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives. The archives obtained the materials the next morning.

“The discovery of these documents was done by the president’s lawyers,” Sauber added. “The documents have not been the subject of any previous requests or inquiries by the Archives. Following this discovery, the President’s personal lawyers have been cooperating with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that all Obama-Biden administration records are properly in the Archives’ possession.

The episode has echoes of the scandal that enveloped Trump in late 2021 over dozens of classified documents found at his home in Mar-a-Lago, Florida, during an FBI raid. However, there are some key differences between the two scenarios in the Biden team’s narrative.

Sauber said Biden’s personal lawyers quickly turned over a small number of classified documents after they were discovered in a locked space. With Trump, when the National Archives realized key records were missing, it was forced to bargain with Trump for months for the return of government documents.

The documents found in Biden’s office were never sought or requested by NARA or any other government agency.

Ultimately, Trump returned 15 boxes of materials back to NARA. But federal investigators later came to the correct suspicion that he still held dozens of additional classified files. So Justice Department prosecutors secured a grand jury subpoena and later got permission from a judge to search Mar-a-Lago to find the documents. He is now under investigation by Special Counsel Jack Smith for potential mishandling of classified documents.

Since the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago in August — a search that uncovered dozens of additional classified files — Trump has promoted wild and baseless claims about his predecessors’ alleged misuse of government documents. The news of secret tapes emerging from Biden’s private office is sure to give new fodder to Trump, who has already announced his candidacy for the presidency in 2024.

It has also quickly become a flashpoint on Capitol Hill for House Republicans who want to use their new powers to oversee the Biden administration.

Congressman James Comer, who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told CNN he plans to press the National Archives for information about classified documents removed by Joe Biden during his time as vice president. He said he would send a letter to the archives – which his commission is monitoring – within the next 48 hours.

“President Biden has been very critical of President Trump mistaking classified documents to the residence or wherever, and now it looks like he may have done the same,” Comer said. “How ironic.”

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy did not say whether he thought House Republicans should investigate Biden’s withholding of classified documents, but said the reaction to Trump holding classified documents was driven by politics.

“I just think it’s evidence that what they tried to do to President Trump, they overdid it,” McCarthy said.

“They’ve been around even longer,” McCarthy said of Biden’s team. “President Trump has never been in office before and he had just left, he came out. Here is a man who has spent his last 40 years in office.

McCarthy added: “It just shows that they were trying to be political with President Trump.”

Congressman Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House oversight panel, pointed to what Biden detailed as key differences between the two cases, noting that Biden’s lawyers “appear to have taken immediate and proper action to notify the National archive for their discovery of a small handful of classified documents found in a locked cabinet at the Penn Biden Center so they could be returned to the federal government.

Raskin, of Maryland, said he was confident Garland had taken the appropriate steps to “make an unbiased decision about any further action that may be necessary.”

Still, some members of Biden’s own party also expressed concern at the idea of ​​classified documents being found in the wrong place.

Two senior Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee — Reps. Adam Schiff and Rep. Jim Himes — told CNN that classified documents must be handled securely, offering their first reaction to the news that President Biden may have mishandled classified documents from his time as vice president.

Although both men said they had not yet read the facts of the stories on the matter, Schiff said, “Obviously, if there are classified documents somewhere, they shouldn’t be, that’s a problem and a deep concern.”

Asked if Congress should look into the matter, Schiff said, “I probably don’t want to say any more until I have a chance to read the article. But I think it should be of concern to everyone if classified information isn’t where it should be.

Himes told CNN: “Look, classified information has to stay in secure spaces. So we’ll wait and see the facts, but you know, classified information should be in secure spaces.


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