Washington: The Justice Department is reviewing a batch of potentially classified documents found in the Washington office space of President Joe Biden's former institute, the White House said Monday.
Special counsel to the president Richard Sauber said “a small number of documents with classified markings” were discovered as Biden's personal attorneys were clearing out the offices of the Penn Biden Center, where the president kept an office after he left the vice presidency in 2017 until shortly before he launched his 2020 presidential campaign in 2019. The documents were found on November 2, 2022, in a “locked closet” in the office, Sauber said.
Sauber said the attorneys immediately alerted the White House Counsel's office, who notified the National Archives and Records Administration — which took custody of the documents the next day.
“Since that discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives,” Sauber said.
A person who is familiar with the matter but not authorised to discuss it publicly said Attorney General Merrick Garland asked US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch to review the matter after the Archives referred the issue to the department. Lausch is one of the few US attorneys to be held over from former President Donald Trump's administration.
Irrespective of the Justice Department review, the revelation that Biden potentially mishandled classified or presidential records could prove to be a political headache for the president, who called Trump's decision to keep hundreds of such records at his private club in Florida “irresponsible."
Trump weighed in Monday on his social media site, asking, “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?”
The revelation comes as Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives and are promising to launch widespread investigations of Biden's administration.
It also may complicate the Justice Department's consideration on whether to bring charges against Trump, who has launched a repeat bid for the White House in 2024 and has repeatedly claimed that the department's inquiry of his own conduct amounted to “corruption."
The National Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Spokespeople for Garland and Lausch declined to comment.
Rep. James Comer, the new GOP chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Monday that the revelation raised questions about the Justice Department’s handling of the Trump probe.
“Is the White House going to be raided tonight? Are they going to raid the Bidens?” he asked reporters. “This is further concern that there’s a two-tier justice system within the DOJ with how they treat Republicans versus Democrats, certainly how they treat the former president versus the current president.”
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Jamie Raskin, said Biden's attorneys “appear to have taken immediate and proper action.”
“I have confidence that the Attorney General took the appropriate steps to ensure the careful review of the circumstances surrounding the possession and discovery of these documents and make an impartial decision about any further action that may be needed,” he added.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the American public deserved to know earlier about the revelation of classified documents.
“They knew about this a week before the election, maybe the American people should have known that,” Jordan told reporters. “They certainly knew about the the raid on Mar-a-Lago 91 days before this election, but nice if on November 2, the country would have known that there were classified documents at the Biden Center.”
Jordan is among House Republicans pushing for the creation of a “select subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal government” within the Judiciary Committee.
Votes on creating that committee are expected as soon as this week, setting up a showdown between Republicans and the prosecutors leading various federal investigations, including the ones into Trump.
It wasn't immediately clear why the White House didn't disclose the discovery of the documents or the DOJ review sooner. CBS was first to report Monday on the discovery of the potentially classified documents.
The Justice Department for months has been investigating the retention of roughly 300 documents that were marked as classified and were recovered from the Trump's Florida estate. In that instance, prosecutors say, representatives of Trump resisted requests to give back the full stash of classified documents and failed to fully comply with a subpoena that sought their return.
FBI agents in August served a search warrant at the Mar-a-Lago property, removing 33 boxes and containers.
That investigation is being led by special counsel Jack Smith. Prosecutors have interviewed an array of Trump associates and have been using a grand jury to hear evidence.
It is not clear when a decision when will be made on whether Trump, or anyone else, should be charged.
The think tank, formally known as the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, is affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania and continues to operate independently of the Biden administration.