WASHINGTON. President Joe Biden said Tuesday he was “surprised” when he was told government documents had been discovered by his lawyers in a former Washington office after a senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee demanded that the U.S. intelligence community conduct a background check. . “damage assessment” of potentially secret documents found among them.
Speaking to reporters in Mexico City, Biden said his lawyers “did what they had to do” when they immediately called the National Archives about the find.
“I was briefed on this discovery and I was surprised to learn that there are any government records that were delivered back to this office,” Biden said.
“I don’t know what’s in the documents,” he added, saying his lawyers suggested he not find out what was in them.
Also on Tuesday, a senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee demanded that the US intelligence community conduct a “damage assessment” of uncovered classified documents believed to be classified.
Rep. Mike Turner on Tuesday sent a GOP inquiry to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haynes, saying Biden’s hold on documents puts him in “a potential violation of laws that protect national security, including the Espionage Act and the Presidential Records Act.”
Regardless of the federal scrutiny, the discovery that Biden potentially mishandled classified or presidential documents could prove to be a political headache for the president, who called former President Donald Trump’s decision to store hundreds of such records in his private club in Florida “irresponsible.” “
Turner’s request comes a day after the White House confirmed that the Justice Department was examining “a small number of classified documents.” The documents were unearthed as Biden’s personal attorneys were clearing out the offices of the Penn Biden Center, where the president held office after leaving the vice presidency in 2017 and shortly before the start of his 2019 presidential campaign, the White House said.
“Those who are trusted with access to classified information have a duty to protect it,” Turner said in a letter to Haynes. “This issue requires full and thorough consideration.”
In September, Haynes agreed 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 the ongoing grand jury investigation into Mar-a-Lago. The intelligence risk assessment in the Trump documents is to examine the seized records for their classification, as well as “the potential risk to national security that may arise from the disclosure of relevant documents.”
Senator Mark Warner, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, called a briefing on the documents.
“Our classification system exists to protect our most important national security secrets, and we expect to be briefed on what happened at both Mar-a-Lago and the Biden office, as part of our constitutional oversight obligations.” he said. “From what we know so far, the latter is about finding marked documents and handing them over, which is certainly different from the months-long effort to preserve materials that are actively sought by the government. But again, that’s why we need to be informed.
The documents were found on November 2, 2022 in a locked filing cabinet in the office, according to special adviser to the president Richard Sauber.
Sauber said lawyers immediately alerted the White House Counsel’s office, which notified the National Archives and Records Administration, which took the documents into custody the next day.
“Following this discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have worked with the archives and the Justice Department to ensure that any records of the Obama-Biden administration are properly archived,” Sauber said.
A person familiar with the matter, but not authorized to discuss it publicly, said that Attorney General Merrick Garland asked U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch to look into the matter after the Archive turned it over to the department. Laush is one of the few U.S. lawyers the Trump administration has kept.
On Monday, Trump spoke out on his social media site, asking, “When is the FBI going to raid many of Joe Biden’s homes, maybe even the White House?”
The Republicans have just taken control of the House of Representatives and are promising to launch wide-ranging investigations into the Biden administration.
The revelation could also complicate the Justice Department’s consideration of whether to indict Trump, who is trying to retake the White House in 2024 and has repeatedly said the Department’s investigation into his own conduct amounted to “corruption.”
The National Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday. Representatives for Garland and Lausch declined to comment.
Rep. James Comer, the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said on Monday that the revelation raised questions about how the Justice Department is handling the Trump investigation.
“Will the White House be searched tonight? Are they going to raid the Bidens?” he asked reporters. “Another problem is that there is a two-tier justice system in the Justice Department, depending on how they treat Republicans and Democrats, and of course how they treat the former president versus the current president.”
On Tuesday, Comer sent a letter to the National Archives requesting records and correspondence regarding the discovery of the Biden documents, arguing that “NARA’s inconsistent approach to recovering classified records held by former President Trump and President Biden raises questions about political bias within the agency.” ”
Comer’s Democratic colleague, Rep. Jamie Raskin, said Biden’s lawyers “appear to have taken immediate and appropriate action.”
“I am confident that the Attorney General has taken appropriate steps to ensure a thorough examination of the circumstances surrounding the possession and discovery of these documents and an impartial decision on any further action that may be required,” he added.
Rep. Jim Jordan, D-Ohio, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the American public deserves to know about the classified documents early.
“They knew about it a week before the election, maybe the Americans should have known,” Jordan told reporters. “They certainly knew about the raid on Mar-a-Lago 91 days before this election, but it’s good if the country knew on November 2 that there are classified documents in the Biden Center.”
Jordan is among the Republicans in the House of Representatives who are in favor of creating an “elected subcommittee on armaments of the federal government” within the Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Ronnie Jackson was one of several Texas Republicans who raised many of the same issues as Jordan. “Did Biden try to hide these documents ahead of the midterms? How long did the federal government KNOW these documents were hidden? WHY are we only hearing about this now? These questions need to be answered! Jackson announced this on Twitter.
Did Biden try to hide these documents before the midterms? How long did the federal government KNOW these documents were hidden? WHY are we only hearing about this now? These questions need to be answered!
— Ronnie Jackson (@RonnyJacksonTX) January 10, 2023
“Call a grand jury,” Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz tweeted.
Texas Rep. Troy Nels, R-Richmond, also responded on Twitter, writing, “When will the FBI raid his home?”
TIME: Secret documents from the days of Vice President Joe Biden are found in his private office.
When will the FBI search his house?
— Congressman Troy Nehls (@RepTroyNehls) January 9, 2023
It was not immediately clear why the White House had not reported the discovery of the documents or the DOJ review sooner. CBS was the first to report on Monday about the discovery of potentially classified documents.
The Justice Department spent months investigating the withholding of approximately 300 documents that were marked as secret and seized from Trump’s property in Florida. In this case, prosecutors said, Trump’s representatives resisted requests to return the entire stock of classified documents and did not fully comply with the subpoena demanding their return.
FBI agents served a search warrant on Mar-a-Lago property in August, seizing 33 crates and containers.
This investigation is being led by Special Counsel Jack Smith. Prosecutors questioned scores of Trump associates and used a grand jury to hear evidence.
Democrats made a similar request to the director of national intelligence in August following a raid on Mar-a-Lago. Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Adam Schiff, who then chaired the House Oversight and Intelligence Committees, asked Haynes to conduct an “immediate review and damage assessment,” arguing that Trump had “potentially put our national security at serious risk.”
According to public statements by lawmakers, intelligence officials have not informed Congress of their assessment in four months since. Haynes noted in her letter that any risk assessment would not “unduly interfere” with the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the Mar-a-Lago documents.
Washington correspondent Rebecca Alvey contributed to this report.