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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Discovery of more classified records raises questions over Biden’s handling of documents

President Joe Biden speaks to journalists before boarding Marine One to depart for Walter Reed Hospital where first lady Jill Biden will have a Mohs surgery procedure, on the South Lawn of the White House, Washington, on Wednesday, Jan 11, 2023.


President Joe Biden’s aides have found a new batch of classified documents at a second location associated with Biden, a person familiar with the situation said earlier this week. It was the second such disclosure in three days, and it was sure to intensify Republican attacks.

Republicans reveled in the new disclosures, accusing Biden of hypocrisy in calling former President Donald Trump irresponsible for hoarding sensitive documents at his private club and residence in Florida. This week, the new Republican chair of the House oversight committee issued a far-ranging request to the National Archives and Records Administration, which is supposed to receive all highly sensitive materials after an administration leaves office, for documents and correspondence.

It is not clear where or when the records were recovered. But Biden’s aides have scoured various places since November, when his lawyers discovered a handful of classified files, including briefing materials on foreign countries, as they closed a think tank office in Washington. The Justice Department is reviewing the discovery to determine how to proceed.

A White House spokesperson and a member of Biden’s legal team did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment.

On Tuesday, Biden told reporters in Mexico City that he was “surprised” to learn in the fall that his lawyers found classified government documents in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement.

He said his staff had fully cooperated with the National Archives and the Justice Department.

A day later, NBC News reported that another cache had been found at a different, undisclosed location.

Under government regulations, access to classified documents is limited to people who are currently authorized to see them, and the materials must be stored in special security containers to limit the risk of exposing sensitive information. The Presidential Records Act says official documents in the White House — classified and unclassified alike — should be turned over to the National Archives when an administration departs.

After Trump left office, officials with the National Archives identified sensitive documents that had not been recovered, prompting numerous appeals for their return. The matter was eventually referred to the Justice Department, which conducted a court-approved search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate and turned up classified materials, including some bearing the most restrictive top-secret markings.

By contrast, the first set of documents found by Biden’s lawyers was voluntarily returned to the National Archives in November and had not been logged as missing. It is not clear if the National Archives had flagged the new materials.

A spokesperson for the National Archives declined to comment.

The discovery of the second batch raises new questions about the handling of sensitive documents by a Biden team that has prided itself for adhering to norms and rules flouted by his predecessor.

But the circumstances of the two cases appear strikingly different. Unlike Trump, who resisted returning the records stored at Mar-a-Lago and failed to fully comply with a subpoena, Biden’s team appears to have acted swiftly and in accordance with the law, immediately summoning officials with the National Archives to retrieve the files. The National Archives then alerted the Justice Department, according to the White House.

“After I was briefed about the discovery, I was surprised to learn that there are any government records that were taken to that office,” Biden said in Mexico.

“But I don’t know what’s in the documents,” he added.

On Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to address the issue, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter under review by the Justice Department.

She also declined to provide details of searches undertaken by Biden’s legal team after the first batch of files was discovered, and did not respond when asked about the possibility that other sensitive materials dating to the Obama era were stored at other Biden-related locations.

“I’m not going to go beyond what the president shared yesterday,” she said. “I’m not going to go beyond what my colleagues at the White House counsel shared with all of you as well.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland, whose time in office has been largely defined by two criminal investigations involving Trump, assigned the preliminary phase of the Biden inquiry to John R. Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago, a Trump appointee.

But the inevitable comparison of the Trump documents case with the Biden matter has put new pressure on Garland to appoint a special counsel to investigate Biden’s handling of government files. In November, days after Trump announced his third bid for the presidency, Garland assigned a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the investigation into Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and the inquiry into whether he illegally kept classified materials at Mar-a-Lago.

Lausch’s review is aimed at helping Garland decide whether to appoint a special counsel, which appears increasingly likely, according to people familiar with the situation.

Garland has been briefed on the inquiry, according to a person familiar with the situation, although it is unclear if he has made a decision.

On Tuesday, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the new chair of the House oversight committee, asked the National Archives and the White House Counsel’s Office for correspondence about Biden’s “failure to return highly classified records from his time as vice president.”

On Wednesday, he took another step in keeping with his promise to hold the Biden administration accountable for what Republicans describe as politicizing federal agencies: pressing the Treasury Department for information about Biden’s family finances.

Republicans reveled in Wednesday’s disclosure.

“It’s clear that Biden’s staff have no idea how many classified documents are in Biden’s former offices and are desperately looking for them,” Tommy Pigott, rapid response director of the Republican National Committee, wrote in an email.

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