Several classified documents from President Joe Biden’s time as vice president were discovered in a private office last fall, Biden’s attorneys confirmed Monday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has asked the US Attorney in Chicago to investigate the matter, a source familiar with the matter told CNN, and Congressional Republicans are also taking notice.
Biden’s attorneys say they found the government materials in November when they closed a Washington, DC office — the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement — that Biden used as part of his relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, where he volunteers worked as a professor from 2017 to 2019.
Less than a dozen classified documents were found in Biden’s office, another source told CNN. It’s unclear what the documents pertain to or why they were brought into Biden’s private office. Federal officials are legally obliged to hand over official documents and classified information at the end of their civil service.
“The White House is working with the national archives and the Justice Department to uncover records from the Obama-Biden administration, including a small number of documents with classified markings,” Richard Sauber, special adviser to President Biden, said in a statement. “The documents were discovered as the President’s personal attorneys were packing files placed in a locked cabinet in preparation for the eviction of office space at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, DC. The President used this space regularly from mid-2017 until the start of the 2020 campaign. On the day of this discovery, November 2, 2022, the White House Office notified the National Archives. The archives took possession of the materials the next morning.”
“The discovery of these documents was made by the President’s attorneys,” added Sauber. “The documents were not the subject of a previous inquiry or investigation by the Archives. 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.”
CBS News first reported on the documents.
Classified materials included some top-secret files called sensitive compartmentalized information, also known as SCI, which is used for highly sensitive information obtained from intelligence sources.
After the discovery, Biden’s attorneys immediately contacted the National Archives and Records Administration, which began investigating the matter, the source said. Biden’s team cooperated with NARA, which later deemed the situation a mistake due to a lack of document safeguards, the source said.
In November, NARA sent a referral to the Justice Department to investigate the matter, a source with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
US Attorney in Chicago, John Lausch Jr., is investigating. Lausch was one of the rare holdovers from the Trump era not to be asked to resign after Biden’s inauguration. He was appointed by Trump in 2017 and confirmed unanimously by the Senate. Illinois’ two Democratic senators said in 2021 that they wanted Lausch to remain in his top post “to complete sensitive investigations,” though they didn’t disclose which investigations he was working on.
The discovery of the materials comes as Special Counsel Jack Smith investigates former President Donald Trump over possible mishandling of secret records at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Federal investigators seized at least 325 of Trump’s classified documents as part of their investigation.
Republicans are already asking questions.
“President Biden has been very critical of President Trump erroneously bringing classified documents into the residence or wherever, and now it appears he did the same,” said GOP Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, who will become Speaker of the House target. “How ironic.”
Comer pointed out that the National Archives falls under the jurisdiction of his Committee on Oversight, but said when they, though in a minority, sent NARA questions related to the former Trump, NARA referred Republicans to the Justice Department.
“Perhaps they will answer our questions now because there are two presidents involved,” Comer said, adding that he plans to contact the archives for more information later this week.
Since the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago in August — a search that uncovered dozens of other classified files — Trump has made wild and baseless allegations about his predecessors’ alleged misuse of government records. News of secret records emerging in Biden’s private office will certainly provide fresh fodder for Trump, who has already announced his 2024 presidential candidacy.
Biden criticized Trump when he saw the photo taken by the FBI, which showed a number of documents found on Trump’s property last summer.
“How could that happen? How can anyone be so irresponsible?” said Biden. “And I thought, what data is in there that could compromise sources and methods? By that I mean names of people who helped or, and so on. … completely irresponsible.”
This story has been updated with additional details.