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Senators: officials block access to mishandled documents


J. Scott Applewhite/AP File

Senator Mark Warner, Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pauses to speak to reporters at the Capitol in Washington, Nov. 10, 2022. Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they should have access to classified documents that have been discovered at the homes of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence.

WASHINGTON — Members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Wednesday they should have access to classified documents that were found in the homes of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, arguing that the Biden administration objects to them in this issue. .

Senators reacted with quick bipartisan rage after a secret meeting with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haynes, insisting they needed to see for themselves what documents the three men had.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that we, in our intelligence oversight role, know if any intelligence information has been compromised,” said Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner and commission vice chairman, Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, held a joint press conference after leaving the meeting.

Members of Congress have been seeking access to the materials, or at least a risk assessment detailing what was in them, since the documents were discovered at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last summer. But they say the administration has objected, saying it cannot grant such access as two special advisers at the Justice Department investigate Trump and Biden’s mishandling of documents.

Senators argued that this did not follow precedent. For example, in the investigation of the Ministry of Justice in Russia, the committees had access to classified materials, which were also part of the investigation of the then special prosecutor Robert Mueller.

The administration’s position is “untenable,” Rubio said. “The information we are requesting is irrelevant and will not interfere with a criminal investigation in any way.”

The senators have not said how they can retaliate unless the administration is more forthright. But Rubio hinted earlier this week that they could withhold dollars from the intelligence community unless Congress got special access to the materials.

“I don’t do threats now,” Rubio said. “But I’m just saying that every year this committee should sanction how money is spent in (Biden’s) agencies.”

Rubio noted that he and Warner are also responsible for authorizing and moving money within the intelligence community. “I think there will be a lot of interest if we can’t actually get the answers we need,” he said.

Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican committee member, said he and others could block a quick review of some of Biden’s candidates in the meantime.

“Congress will hurt the administration until it releases these documents,” Cotton said after Wednesday’s meeting.

Disappointment in Congress comes after months of waiting for a briefing on documents seized from the Trump estate. According to the government, these documents, captured at Mar-a-Lago, and papers handed over by the former Republican president earlier, included highly sensitive “Special Access Program” markings, as well as overlays for intelligence data obtained from classified human sources and electronic signal programs. . These forms of intelligence are often produced by the CIA or the National Security Agency, and the main sources can take years to develop.

A review by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence was to determine the possible damage if the secrets contained in these documents were revealed. Last year, in a letter to Congress, Haynes said the ODNI would conduct a “classification review of relevant materials, including those found during searches.”

But lawmakers are still waiting for the details of that assessment and say they want access to the documents themselves as well.

Lawyers for Pence said this week that what appeared to be a small amount of paperwork was inadvertently packaged and delivered to his home in Indiana at the end of Trump’s administration. The revelation comes after Biden’s lawyers said they found documents from when he was vice president at his Delaware home and at his pre-presidential think tanks offices.

Special prosecutors are investigating episodes with Trump and Biden. In all three cases, the meaning of the classified material and whether its mishandling violates national security is not known to the public.

Warner said the Senate may try to find a way to provide more guarantees regarding presidential replacements and paperwork. It’s not clear how they’ll do it, and these talks have just begun amid the revelations of Biden and Pence.

Some members have long talked about introducing new parameters for what is secret, responding to concerns that certain documents are being kept secret when they are not needed.

“We have a broken system,” Warner said. “And we need to fix that for all the people leaving the government.”

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