White House defends delay in revealing classified documents at Biden private office, home

By: - January 17, 2023 7:54 pm

Classified documents were discovered at the Penn Biden Center on Jan. 9 while Biden was attending meetings with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House on Tuesday defended sitting on information about Obama administration classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s private residence and a think tank, saying officials are attempting to balance working with the Justice Department and sharing information publicly.

“We understand that there’s a tension between the need to be cooperative with an ongoing DOJ investigation, and rightful demands for additional public information,” said Ian Sams, White House spokesman for oversight and investigations, in a call with reporters. “And so we’re trying to strike that balance and being as clear as we can.”

Sams sidestepped questions about why Biden wasn’t more forthcoming that documents with classified markings were found at his private office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C, on Nov. 2 and at his private home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Dec. 20, Jan. 11 and Jan. 12.

CBS News reported on the November discovery of the classified documents at the Penn Biden Center on Jan. 9 while Biden was attending meetings with the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

The next day, during a press conference, Biden said he was “surprised to learn that there were any government records that were taken” to his office at the Penn Biden Center.

“People know I take classified documents and classified information seriously,” Biden said, opting not to mention the additional classified documents found at his private home in Wilmington.

Then, days later, Richard Sauber, special counsel to the President, disclosed in a written statement on Jan. 12 that a “small number of additional Obama-Biden Administration records with classified markings” were found with personal and political documents at Biden’s home in Wilmington.

The release came just hours before U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said he’d appointed former federal prosecutor Robert Hur to lead an investigation to determine if Biden had mishandled classified material.

Sauber said in another statement, released on Jan. 14, that he went to Biden’s Wilmington home on Jan. 12 because he has a security clearance and could ease the way for providing the document the President’s personal counsel found on Wednesday to the Justice Department.

“While I was transferring it to the DOJ officials who accompanied me, five additional pages with classification markings were discovered among the material with it, for a total of six pages. The DOJ officials with me immediately took possession of them,” Sauber said in the statement.

Investigation by House GOP

Sams, on the call with reporters, declined to say how many pages of documents with classified markings were found outside secure government facilities, why lawyers were packing up Biden’s office at the Penn-Biden Center, if additional searches are ongoing, or why the team searching for classified documents doesn’t hold the security clearances needed to handle those files.

Sams also declined to say if the White House would cooperate with House Republicans, who have launched congressional investigations into the matter.

“Our commitment is to work in good faith with Congress,” Sams said. “When they make a request, we’re going to operate in good faith. We just expect that the members of Congress have the same good faith.”

Sams then rebuked Republicans for criticizing the way Biden handled classified documents from the Obama-Biden administration.

“I think that within the last few days, we’ve seen an eagerness among House Republicans to make their lack of credibility known,” Sams said. “They’re focusing on things that they did not focus on in previous circumstances. They’re making contradictory claims on television about the underlying purposes of their inquiries.”

Sams added the Biden administration wouldn’t hesitate to point out “hypocrisy” among Republicans, many of whom didn’t support investigations into former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents after he left office.

House ​​Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, wrote to White House Counsel Stuart Delery earlier this month, asking for a list of all the documents retrieved from the Penn Biden Center and a list of people who had access to the office.

Comer on Sunday said on CNN’s “State of the Union that “​​with respect to investigating President Trump, there have been so many investigations of President Trump, I don’t feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time investigating President Trump, because the Democrats have done that for the past six years.”

Following the latest revelation this weekend, that people searching Biden’s private residences found five more documents, Comer said in a written statement that “it is troubling that classified documents have been improperly stored at the home of President Biden for at least six years, raising questions about who may have reviewed or had access to classified information.”

“Additionally, President Biden’s personal attorneys, who do not possess security clearances, and White House staff continue to access and search the President’s residence in Wilmington, Delaware for classified documents,” Comer added.

Biden lawyer statement

Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal attorney, released a written statement over the weekend that because the president’s personal attorneys didn’t have security clearances, “whenever a document bearing classified markings was identified, the search was suspended of the box, file or other space where the document was discovered, with the potentially classified material left in place as found.”

The lawyers then promptly notified the government, Bauer wrote.

“It is for this reason that the President’s personal attorneys do not know the precise number of pages in the discovered material, nor have they reviewed the content of the documents, consistent with standard procedures and requirements,” Bauer wrote.

He also released a timeline that said Biden’s personal attorneys “unexpectedly discovered Obama-Biden documents at the Penn Biden Center” on Nov. 2, 2022 before notifying the National Archives and Records Administration.

The NARA inspector general told the Department of Justice on Nov. 4, a few days before the DOJ began an assessment into whether the documents were mishandled on Nov. 9.

On Dec. 20, the president’s personal attorneys found “a small number of potential records bearing classified markings” inside the garage at Biden’s home in Wilmington, the Bauer timeline said.

On Jan. 11,  Biden’s personal attorneys found “a potential record bearing classified markings at the Wilmington residence, among stored materials inside a room adjacent to the garage” during another search of the Wilmington home. No classified documents were found during a search of Biden’s other home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

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Jennifer Shutt
Jennifer Shutt

Jennifer covers the nation’s capital as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Her coverage areas include congressional policy, politics and legal challenges with a focus on health care, unemployment, housing and aid to families.

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