President Biden ‘surprised’ by discovery of classified documents found in former personal office
WASHINGTON– President Joe Biden said Tuesday he was surprised when he was told his attorneys had found government documents in his former Washington offices. He was questioned on the issue after the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee requested that the US Secret Service conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents.
Speaking to reporters in Mexico City, Biden said his attorneys “did what they should have done” when they immediately called the National Archives about the discovery at the Penn Biden Center offices. He retained an office there after leaving the vice presidential post in 2017 until just before the start of his 2019 presidential campaign.
The White House confirmed that the Justice Department is reviewing “a small number of documents with classified markings” found in the office.
The video in the media player above is from a previous report
“I was informed of this discovery and was surprised to learn that there are any government documents that were brought there to this office,” Biden said in his first comments since news broke on November 2, 2022, that the document discovery broke Monday . He added that “I don’t know what the documents say” and that his lawyers advised him not to ask.
Earlier Tuesday, Rep. Mike Turner sent the request to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, saying Biden’s preservation of the documents would expose him to a “potential violation of laws protecting national security, including the Espionage Act and the Presidential Records.” Act”.
Regardless of federal scrutiny, the revelation that Biden may have mishandled confidential or presidential records could prove a political issue for the president, who questioned former President Donald Trump’s decision to keep hundreds of such records at his Florida private club called “irresponsible”.
“Those entrusted with access to classified information have a duty and obligation to protect it,” Turner said in a letter to Haines. “This issue requires a full and thorough review.”
On Tuesday, Rep. James Comer, the new GOP chair of the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter to the White House office asking for copies of documents found in the Biden office, notices of the discovery and a list of those who may have had access to the office where they were found. The White House did not immediately respond to the request.
Haines agreed in September to conduct a “risk assessment” rather than a “damage assessment” of the Trump case.
There are significant differences between the Trump and Biden situations, including the severity of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the Mar-a-Lago matter. The intelligence risk assessment of the Trump documents is said to examine the seized records for classification as well as “the potential risk to national security that would result from disclosure of the relevant documents.”
Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for disclosure of the documents.
“Our classification system is in place to protect our most important national security secrets, and we expect to be informed as part of our constitutional oversight responsibilities as to what happened at both Mar-a-Lago and the Biden office,” he said. “From what we know so far, the latter involves finding documents with marks and handing them over, which is certainly different from a months-long effort to preserve material actively sought by the government. But that too is why we need to be informed.”
The president’s special counsel, Richard Sauber, said Monday that after Biden’s attorneys found the records, they notified the National Archives and Records Administration — which took custody of the documents the next day.
“Since this discovery, the president’s personal attorneys have worked with the archives and the Justice Department to ensure that all records of the Obama-Biden administration are properly held in the archives,” Sauber said.
A person familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly said Attorney General Merrick Garland asked US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch to review the matter after the archives revealed the referred the matter to the department. Lausch is one of the few US attorneys held by the Trump administration.
Trump chimed in on his social media page Monday, asking, “When will the FBI raid Joe Biden’s many homes, maybe even the White House?”
Republicans have just taken control of the House of Representatives and are pledging to launch a full investigation into Biden’s administration.
The revelation could also complicate the Justice Department’s deliberations on filing charges against Trump, who is trying to win back the White House in 2024 and has repeatedly claimed the department’s probe into his own conduct was “corruption.”
The National Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Garland and Lausch spokesmen declined to comment.
Comer also sent a letter to the National Archives requesting records and correspondence related to the discovery of the Biden documents, claiming that “NARA’s inconsistent handling of the recovery of classified records held by former President Trump and President Biden raises questions about political bias at the agency”.
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Jamie Raskin, said Biden’s attorneys “appear to have acted promptly and appropriately.”
“I am confident that the Attorney General has taken the appropriate steps to ensure a thorough review of the circumstances surrounding the possession and discovery of these documents and to make an impartial determination of any further action that may be required,” he added.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the American public deserved to know about the classified documents sooner.
“They knew about this a week before the election, maybe the American people should have known that,” Jordan told reporters. “They certainly knew about the Mar-a-Lago raid 91 days before this election, but it would be nice if the country had known on November 2 that there were classified documents at the Biden Center.”
Jordan is among House Republicans pushing for the creation of a “select subcommittee to arm the federal government” within the Judiciary Committee.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the White House hadn’t disclosed the discovery of the documents or the DOJ’s review sooner. CBS was the first to report the discovery of the potentially classified documents on Monday.
The Justice Department has been investigating for months the safekeeping of around 300 classified documents recovered from Trump’s Florida home. In that case, prosecutors said, Trump officials resisted calls to return the entire stash of classified documents and failed to fully comply with a subpoena demanding their return.
FBI agents served a search warrant at the Mar-a-Lago property in August and removed 33 boxes and containers.
This investigation is being led by Special Counsel Jack Smith. Prosecutors have questioned a number of Trump associates and set up a grand jury to hear evidence.
Democrats made a similar request to the director of national intelligence in August after the Mar-a-Lago search. Reps Carolyn Maloney and Adam Schiff, who then chaired the House Oversight and Intelligence Committees, asked Haines for an “immediate review and damage assessment,” claiming that Trump “may have placed our national security at great risk.”
According to public statements by lawmakers, it is believed that intelligence officials have not informed Congress of their assessment in the four months since. Haines noted in her letter that a risk assessment would not “unduly impair” the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant, Eric Tucker and Farnoush Amiri in Washington, Colleen Long in Mexico City, and Michael Tarm in Chicago contributed.
Copyright © 2023 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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