Several classified documents from President Joe Biden’s time as vice president were discovered last fall in a private office, Biden’s lawyers acknowledged Monday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has asked the U.S. attorney in Chicago to investigate the case, a source familiar with the matter told CNN, and congressional Republicans are paying attention, too.
Biden’s lawyers say they found the government materials in November while closing an office in Washington, D.C. — Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement – which Biden used as part of his relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, where he was professor emeritus from 2017 to 2019
Fewer than a dozen classified documents were found in Biden’s office, another source told CNN. It is not clear what the documents refer to or why they were taken to Biden’s personal office. Federal officials are required by law to give up official documents and classified records when their government service ends.
“The White House is cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice regarding the discovery of what appear to be Obama-Biden administration records, including a small number of classified documents,” Richard Sauber, special counsel to President Biden, said in a statement. . “The documents were discovered when the president’s personal lawyers were packing up files stored in a locked closet in preparation for vacating office space at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, DC. 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 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.
CBS News first to report on the papers.
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.
After the discovery, Biden’s lawyers immediately contacted the National Archives and Records Administration, which began looking into the matter, the source said. Biden’s team cooperated with NARA, which later saw the situation as a mistake due to a lack of safeguards for the documents, the source said.
In November, NARA sent a referral to the Justice Department to look into the matter, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.
The U.S. Attorney in Chicago, John Lausch Jr., is investigating. Lausch was one of the rare remnants of the Trump era who was not asked to resign after Biden’s inauguration. He was appointed by Trump in 2017 and unanimously confirmed by the Senate. Two Illinois Democratic senators said in 2021 that they wanted Lausch to remain in his top post “to close sensitive investigations,” though they did not disclose what investigations he was working on.
The discovery of the materials comes as special counsel Jack Smith investigates former President Donald Trump for potential misuse of classified records at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. At least federal investigators have recovered 325 classified documents by Trump as part of their investigation.
Republicans are already asking questions.
“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,” said Republican Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, who is on the way to become House Oversight Chairman. “How ironic.”
Comer pointed out that the National Archives falls under his oversight committee’s jurisdiction, but said that when they, though in the minority, sent questions to NARA related to the former Trump, NARA referred Republicans to the Justice Department.
“Maybe they’ll answer our questions now because it’s about two presidents,” Comer said, adding that he plans to ask the archives for more information later this week.
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.
Biden was critical of Trump when he saw the photo taken by the FBI showing a trove of documents found at Trump’s property last summer.
“How could this happen? How could anyone be so irresponsible?’ Biden said. “And I thought, what data is out there that could compromise sources and methods? By that I mean names of people who helped or etc. … completely irresponsible.”
This story has been updated with additional details.
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