U.S. Attorney-General Merrick Garland on January 12 appointed a special counsel to investigate the presence of documents with classified markings found at President Joe Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at an office in Washington.
The announcement followed Mr. Biden’s acknowledgement earlier in the day that a document with classified markings from his time as Vice-President was found in his personal library, along with other documents found in his garage. It was disclosed on January 9 that sensitive documents were found at the office of his former institute in Washington.
Robert Hur, the former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Maryland, will lead the investigation, taking over from the top Justice Department prosecutor in Chicago, John Lausch, who was earlier assigned by the department to investigate the matter. Mr. Hur is to begin his work soon.
The appointment of yet another special counsel to investigate the handling of classified documents is a remarkable turn of events, legally and politically, for a Justice Department that has spent months looking into the retention by Donald Trump of more than 300 documents with classification markings found at the former president’s Florida estate.
Though the situations are factually and legally different, the discovery of classified documents at two separate locations tied to Mr. Biden — as well as the appointment of a new special counsel — would almost certainly complicate any prosecution that the department might bring against Mr. Trump.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House that he is “cooperating fully and completely” with a Justice Department investigation into how classified information and government records made their way to his home and the office of his former institute in Washington.
Mr. Biden did not say when the latest series of documents were found, only that his lawyers’ review of potential storage locations was completed on January 11 night. Lawyers found the first set on November 2, 2022, days before the midterm elections, but only publicly revealed that development on January 9.
Richard Sauber, a special counsel to the President, said after the initial documents were found by Mr. Biden’s personal lawyers, they examined other locations where records might have been shipped after Mr. Biden left the Vice-Presidency in 2017.
Mr. Sauber said a “small number” of documents with classified markings were found in a storage space in Mr. Biden’s garage in Wilmington, with one document being located in an adjacent room.
Mr. Sauber said the Department of Justice was “immediately notified” after the documents were located and that department lawyers took custody of the records.
New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said of the latest news: “I think Congress has to investigate this.” Mr. McCarthy said: “Here’s an individual that sat on ‘60 Minutes’ that was so concerned about President Trump’s documents locked in behind, and now we find that this is a vice president keeping it for years out in the open for different locations.”
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has requested that intelligence agencies conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents. Ohio Representative Mike Turner on January 12 also requested briefings from the Attorney-General and the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, on their reviews by January 26.
“The presence of classified information at these separate locations could implicate the President in the mishandling, potential misuse, and exposure of classified information,” Mr. Turner wrote the officials.
Earlier this week, the White House confirmed that the department was reviewing “a small number of documents with classified markings” found at the Washington office. Mr. Biden’s lawyers had discovered the material at the offices of the Penn Biden Center and then immediately called the National Archives about the discovery, the White House said. Mr. Biden kept an office there after he left the Vice-Presidency in 2017 until shortly before he launched his Democratic presidential campaign in 2019.
The revelation that additional classified documents were uncovered by Biden’s team came hours after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dodged questions about Biden’s handling of classified information and the West Wing’s management of the discovery.
She had said on January 11 that the White House was committed to handling the matter in the “right way,” pointing to Mr. Biden’s personal attorneys’ immediate notification of the National Archives.
But she refused to say when Mr. Biden himself had been briefed, whether there were any more classified documents potentially located at other unauthorized locations, and why the White House waited more than two months to reveal the discovery of the initial batch of documents.
The Justice Department is reviewing the records that were found at the Penn Biden Center and Mr. Garland has asked John Lausch, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to review the the matter, a person familiar with the matter told The Associated Press this week. That person also was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mr. Lausch is one of the few U.S. attorneys to be held over from the Trump administration.
Mr. Biden has said he was “surprised to learn that there are any government records that were taken there to that office” but his lawyers “did what they should have done” when they immediately called the National Archives.
The revelation also may complicate the Justice Department’s consideration of whether to bring charges against Mr. Trump. The Republican is trying to win back the White House in 2024 and has repeatedly claimed the department’s inquiry into his own conduct amounted to “corruption.”
There are significant differences between the Trump and Biden situations, including the gravity of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the Mar-a-Lago matter.