US Attorney General Merrick Garland has 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 Biden’s acknowledgement on Thursday (Friday AEDT) 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.
Garland said Biden’s lawyers informed the Justice Department ON Thursday morning of the discovery of a classified document at Biden’s home, after FBI agents first retrieved other documents from his garage in December. It was disclosed on Monday that sensitive documents were found at the office of his former institute in Washington.
Robert Hur, the former Trump-appointed US 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 and who recommended to Garland last week that a special counsel be appointed. Hur is to begin his work soon.
“The extraordinary circumstances here require the appointment of a special counsel for this matter,” Garland said, adding that Hur is authorised to investigate whether any person or entity violated the law.
“This appointment underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.,” Garland said.
Lawyers found the first set on November 2, days before the midterm elections, but publicly revealed that development only on Monday.
Richard Sauber, a special counsel to the president, said a “small number” of documents with classified markings were found in a storage space in Biden’s garage in Wilmington, with one document being located in an adjacent room. Biden later revealed that the other location was his personal library.
Speaking Thursday, Biden said the documents were in a “locked garage” and that he was cooperating fully with the Department of Justice.
“It’s not like they’re sitting out on the street,” he insisted when a reported asked why he was storing classified material next to a sports car.
The president said he was going “to get a chance to speak on all of this, God willing, soon.”
Biden said the Department of Justice was “immediately notified” after the documents were located and that department lawyers took custody of the records.
The documents were located following a search of the president’s homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
No classified documents were located in the Rehoboth property, the statement said. The documents were found “among personal and political papers.”
Lawyers for Biden concluded their review of the Delaware homes on Wednesday evening.
“As was done in the case of the Penn-Biden Center, the Department of Justice was immediately notified, and the lawyers arranged for the Department of Justice to take possession of these documents,” the statement reads.
A person familiar with the situation said after the statement was released that in the case of the classified documents initially discovered at the Penn-Biden Center, Biden lawyers first notified the National Archives – not the Justice Department – which then in turn notified the Justice Department.
Biden’s lawyers followed “proper protocol” by first notifying the Archives with the first batch of classified documents, the person said, but because the Justice Department subsequently got involved and the president’s lawyers were then in touch with them, in the second instance, the lawyers informed the Justice Department.
But key questions remain unanswered about the stash of classified material, including who brought them to Biden’s private homes and what specifically was contained in them.
CNN reported Wednesday that Biden’s legal team had found another batch of classified documents in a search that began after classified documents were found at his former think tank office in Washington in early November.
The discovery of the classified documents in his former office in November set off alarm bells inside the White House, where only a small circle of advisers and lawyers were aware of the matter. An effort was launched to search other locations where documents from Biden’s time as vice president may have been stored.
CNN previously reported that the initial batch discovered when Biden’s personal attorneys were packing files at his former private office contained 10 classified documents, including US intelligence materials and briefing memos about Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom.
Some of the classified documents were “top secret,” the highest level. They were found in three or four boxes that also contained unclassified papers that fall under the Presidential Records Act, CNN has reported.
Classified records are supposed to be stored in secure locations. And under the Presidential Records Act, White House records are supposed to go to the National Archives when an administration ends.
Prior to new reports about the second batch of government materials on Wednesday, the White House refused to answer a number of critical questions about the classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president discovered inside a private office last fall, citing an ongoing Department of Justice review.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday refused to answer a number questions about the documents, citing the Justice Department’s ongoing review of the matter.
She could not say who brought the documents into the office or whether other documents were found. Nor could she say whether an audit was underway to locate other possible documents or when the president had been briefed on the discovery of the documents.
“This is under review by the Department of Justice. I’m not going to go beyond what the president shared yesterday,” Jean-Pierre said, repeating the explanation in so many words over the course of Wednesday’s press briefing.
“I’m not going to go beyond what my colleagues at the White House counsel shared with all of you as well.”