The San Juan Daily Star
Leaders in Congress given classified records found at homes of Biden and Trump
By Karoun Demirjian and Julian E. Barnes
American intelligence agencies have begun providing leaders of the House and Senate access to copies of the classified documents found in the possession of former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, according to U.S. officials.
The materials, which started arriving on Capitol Hill last week, are being shared exclusively with the so-called Gang of Eight, which includes the leaders of both chambers and the chairs and ranking members of the two congressional intelligence committees, who hold the highest-level security clearances in Congress. But it will likely be several weeks, if not longer, before lawmakers are given access to the full complement of documents they are seeking, said the officials, who insisted on anonymity to discuss the sharing of the documents.
The decision to share the information comes after a concerted bipartisan push spearheaded by Sens. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who lead the intelligence panel. They have spent weeks waging both an internal battle and a public campaign demanding the administration share with Congress the substance of classified documents discovered at the homes of Trump, Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence.
During a public hearing last month, they repeatedly pressed senior intelligence leaders to provide lawmakers access to the documents, with Warner, the chair, warning that the administration’s stated reasoning for not doing so “does not pass the smell test.”
Until last week, the Justice Department resisted sharing copies of the documents with Congress, citing concerns raised by the special counsels overseeing investigations into how such materials ended up among the personal effects of the current and former presidents. Some in the department had worried that if the documents leaked, it could compromise any potential prosecution, especially if Trump proclaimed that a given piece of intelligence had been declassified.
But lawmakers rejected that position, pointing out that intelligence officials regularly provide the Gang of Eight warnings regarding the most secret operations and intelligence the United States gathers, and there are relatively few examples of that material making its way into the public.
Several members have also stressed that a special counsel’s investigation does not obviate their oversight responsibilities or the administration’s obligation to share sensitive materials with Capitol Hill. They noted that the Senate Intelligence Committee was briefed about matters related to an investigation by a former special counsel, Robert Mueller, into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election before it had concluded.
Representatives of the lawmakers and Avril Haines, the director of national intelligence, declined to comment on the agreement to provide the documents to Congress, which was reported earlier Tuesday by Punchbowl News.
The first tranche of documents consists of mostly less sensitive material, according to officials familiar with its contents who noted that the most highly classified and potentially sensitive papers will likely be provided later.
The administration has not yet offered the Gang of Eight a precise timeline for when members might expect the balance of the materials, the officials added. The first documents were provided last week, though officials said the agreement to send them was reached earlier.
At this juncture, only a very slim subset of people on Capitol Hill have had the opportunity to view the materials provided, as the administration began sharing the documents after senators and House members had departed Washington for a two-week Easter recess.
The Gang of Eight leaders are expected to review the materials once both chambers return to Capitol Hill next week.