Several classified documents from President Joe Biden’s time as vice president were discovered in a private office last fall, Biden’s lawyers acknowledged Monday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has asked the U.S. attorney in Chicago to investigate the matter, a source familiar with the matter told CNN., And congressional Republicans are taking note.
Biden’s lawyers say they found the government materials when they closed the Washington, DC-based office in November. Ben Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement – used by Biden as part of his relationship with the University of Pennsylvania Honorary Professor 2017 to 2019.
Less than a dozen classified documents were found in Biden’s office, another source told CNN. It’s unclear what the documents were about or why they were taken to Biden’s private office. Federal office holders must discard official documents and classified records when their government service ends.
“The White House is cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice on the Obama-Biden administration’s records, including a small number of documents with classified identities,” said Richard Saber, special counsel to President Biden. In a statement. “The president used the space intermittently from mid-2017 until the start of the 2020 campaign, when the president’s personal lawyers were packing files in a locked cabinet in preparation for vacating office space at the Ben Biden Center in Washington, DC. . On the day of the discovery, November 2, 2022, the White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives. The next morning the archives seized the material.
“The discovery of these documents was made by the president’s lawyers,” Saber added. “These documents are not the subject of any previous request or investigation by the Archives. Since its discovery, the president’s personal lawyers have cooperated with the archives and the Department of Justice in the process of ensuring that Obama-Biden administration records remain in the archives’ possession.
CBS News First reported in the papers.
The classified materials include some top-secret files with the designation “Sensitive Compartmentalized 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 deemed the situation a mistake because the documents were not protected, the source said.
In November, NARA sent a recommendation to the Justice Department to look into the matter, a source familiar with the situation told CNN.
U.S. Attorney John Lash Jr. in Chicago is prosecuting the case. Lash is one of the rare Trump-era incumbents not asked to resign after Biden’s inauguration. He was appointed by Trump in 2017 and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Illinois’ two Democratic senators said they wanted Lash to remain in his top post in 2021, though they did not disclose what investigations he was involved in to “complete sensitive investigations.”
The items were discovered as special counsel Jack Smith investigates former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified records at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Federal investigators have recovered at least 325 classified documents Trump as part of their investigation.
Republicans are already asking questions.
“President Biden has been very critical of President Trump improperly taking classified documents home or anywhere, and now it appears he may have done the same,” said GOP Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the incoming House Oversight Leader. “How ironic.”
Gomer pointed out that his committee’s oversight of the National Archives falls under his committee’s jurisdiction, but while they were in the minority, NARA referred Republicans to the Justice Department when NARA sent questions related to former Trumps.
“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’s search of Mar-a-Lago in August — a search that turned up dozens of additional classified files — Trump has encouraged wild and unsubstantiated allegations of his predecessor’s mishandling of government records. News of secret recordings in Biden’s private office is sure to provide new fodder for Trump, who has already announced his 2024 presidential bid.
Biden criticized Trump after seeing a photo taken by the FBI that showed a series of documents found on Trump’s property last summer.
“How could that happen? How could someone—anyone—be so reckless? Biden said. “I thought what data could compromise the sources and methods? The names of the people I helped with it or, and so on. … Totally irresponsible.”
This story has been updated with additional details.