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President Biden, his legal team, the Justice Department and the National Archives have known since early November that some classified documents created while he was vice president were discovered locked in a closet in an office Biden used for years after the Obama administration ended.
Limited details, first reported by CBS News and confirmed in a statement by a White House lawyer, set off a barrage of questions on Monday along with comparisons to former President Trump’s ongoing troubles with the Justice Department over his possession of classified records after leaving office. The FBI last year retrieved cartons of presidential and classified materials from Mar-a-Lago, which were destined for the Archives.
Trump, a declared 2024 presidential candidate, on Monday cried foul, setting in motion a new wave of complaints that he is treated unfairly by Democrats for political purposes. The news about Biden’s records punctuated the first workday of the new Congress as House Republicans vowed to pursue rigorous oversight and investigations. One topic at the top of their list: assertions that the Justice Department, FBI and intelligence agencies may have politicized actions to the detriment of conservatives.
Monday’s revelations about Biden’s recovered documents are all but certain to be explored by the House GOP in future hearings.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House? These documents were definitely not declassified,” Trump said Monday on his Truth Social platform (The Hill).
Reacting to the November discovery of the Biden classified materials, Attorney General Merrick Garland at the time quietly assigned the U.S. attorney in Chicago to review a “small number” of documents with classified marking, which were removed from the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in the nation’s capital and turned over to national archivists by Biden’s personal lawyers, CBS reported.
On Nov. 2, the day the material was discovered and almost a week before the midterm elections, Biden’s counsel’s office notified the National Archives and Records Administration, which took possession of the materials the following morning, according to the White House. Officials have not said why the matter was not disclosed publicly last fall.
The Biden papers came to light when the president’s personal attorneys “were packing files housed in a locked closet to prepare to vacate office space at the Penn Biden Center,” Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a statement. It is unclear what the documents included, although sources told CBS that nuclear secrets were not among materials found in the closet.
The Hill: Differences in the Trump, Biden classified documents discoveries.
Trump is under federal investigation for the removal of hundreds of White House classified documents that he stored at his Florida estate after he left office — and was slow to return, decisions that allegedly violated the Presidential Records Act, according to lawyers and analysts in both parties. The FBI last year acted on a search warrant at the request of the Archives in order to search for and seize 200,000 pages from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property, including at least 100 classified or highly classified documents.
The Biden documents were discovered around the time that the attorney general tapped a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the agency’s criminal investigation into Trump’s actions. Officials have said the investigation tied to the former president concerns possible mishandling of government secrets and possible obstruction of justice or destruction of records (The Washington Post).
To oversee the review of what was locked in Biden’s office closet, the attorney general, who was traveling Monday with the president in Mexico, assigned John Lausch, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, to conduct a review. Lausch was nominated by Trump, the Post reported, adding that the FBI also is taking part.
The Penn Biden Center opened in Washington in 2018 as a think tank for the University of Pennsylvania with Biden as the anchor for programs involving foreign policy experts and lawmakers. He worked there with a number of long-serving aides who also returned to the White House after his election, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Steve Ricchetti, who previously served as the center’s managing director and is a top presidential adviser in the West Wing.
▪ Bloomberg News: DOJ reviewing classified files found at former Biden office.
▪ CNN: Biden tries to stay focused on Mexico City summit after revelation that classified documents were found in his private office.
▪ NBC News: Biden became aware of the classified documents being stored in his former office when he was informed by his lawyers they had discovered them.
▪ The Atlantic (rewind to October predictions by Barton Gellman): The impeachment of Joe Biden. “The pressure from the MAGA base will build. A triggering event will burst all restraints. Eventually, Republicans will leave themselves little choice.”
LEADING THE DAY
The House and newly confirmed Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) faced their first legislative challenge Monday with the adoption of the chamber’s rules package, which passed in a mainly party-line vote, 220-213.
Rep. Tony Gonzales (Texas) was the only Republican to vote against the sweeping measure, which will govern how the chamber operates for its next two-year term, The Hill’s Emily Brooks and Mychael Schnell report. The terms in the package were central to closed-door negotiations last week between McCarthy’s allies and detractors, and the Speaker had to give up a number of concessions in order to put him over the finish line to secure the gavel — which he ultimately won on the 15th ballot, after four days of voting.
But the process left open questions about whether the provisions would turn off moderate Republicans, and a few had voiced misgivings in recent days. The most controversial item in the rules package is the single-member motion to vacate the chair, which allows one lawmaker to force a vote on ousting the Speaker. Also reinstated is the Holman rule, which gives members the ability to propose amendments for appropriations bills that would decrease the salaries of specific federal workers, or funding for certain programs, to $1, essentially defunding them.
House Rules Committee ranking member Jim McGovern (Mass.) — who called the rules package “flawed” — was among the Democrats to express concerns with the provisions, especially those agreed upon in handshake deals between McCarthy and his detractors.
“What I’m concerned about is not just what’s written down here, I’m concerned by the backroom deals that Speaker McCarthy made with the Freedom Caucus in exchange for their votes,” McGovern said. “This is unconscionable, we’re only one week into this and this is how they’re running this place. Is this what the majority leader meant when he talked about a new day in transparency? These rules are not a serious attempt at governing, they’re essentially a ransom note to America from the extreme right.”
Through the rules package, the GOP is also preparing to hammer agencies reviewing the conduct of Trump with a new select subcommittee poised to focus on the “weaponization” of the federal government, writes The Hill’s Rebecca Beitsch. The panel is being drawn up to take aim at ongoing investigations at the Department of Justice and the FBI on Trump, including the taking of classified documents to Mar-a-Lago and the former president’s conduct leading up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
The subcommittee, included under the umbrella of the House Judiciary Committee, will be helmed by its chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the combative ally of Trump who has already sent more than 100 letters to the two agencies ahead of his own expected probes.
Politico: Mutually assured obstruction: House GOP aims “weaponization” panel at DOJ.
Taken together, the new rules could increase transparency around how legislation is put together, but they could also make it difficult for the chamber to carry out even its most basic duties in the next two years, such as funding the government, including the military, or avoiding a federal debt default (The New York Times).
Outside of the measures McCarthy included to appease his skeptics, one of the most significant inclusions in the package is a move to strip House employees’ collective bargaining rights. Democrats adopted a resolution in May that granted nearly 9,100 House staffers the ability to form unions, but the new rules include language saying that resolution will have no force or effect during the 118th Congress (Roll Call).
The rules would also impose term limits for Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) board members and require the office to make hiring decisions within 30 days — which ethics advocates say could effectively gut the watchdog agency.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) told Business Insider of the rules package on Monday. Following his election in November, Santos, who was sworn into Congress this weekend, was revealed to have fabricated much of his background. He is under investigation in multiple jurisdictions and faces at least two OCE complaints related to his financial disclosures.
The House on Monday also approved a bill that would roll back $80 billion in IRS funding that was part of the Inflation Reduction Act, write The Hill’s Emily Brooks and Mychael Schnell. The legislation would pile more than $100 billion onto federal deficits, according to a new estimate from Congress’s official budget scorekeeper, the Congressional Budget Office (The Hill and The Wall Street Journal). The White House on Monday excoriated the bill — which is unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate — calling it a “reckless” bill that would benefit “tax cheats.”
“With their first economic legislation of the new Congress, House Republicans are making clear that their top economic priority is to allow the rich and multi-billion dollar corporations to skip out on their taxes, while making life harder for ordinary, middle-class families that pay the taxes they owe,” the Office of Management and Budget said in a statement (The Hill).
The Hill’s Emily Brooks has rounded up the Republicans who were selected to chair House committees under the new GOP majority, from Rep. Jason Smith (Mo.) for Ways and Means to Rep. Virginia Foxx (N.C.) for Education and the Workforce.
In a statement, Smith said the panel will “build on the success of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and examine how our policies can reward working families with a tax code that delivers better jobs, higher wages, and more investment in America,” as well as examine tax benefits for “corporations that have shed their American identity in favor of a relationship with China.”
The concessions McCarthy agreed to with conservative rebels are likely to set up showdowns this year with Senate Democrats and Biden, writes The Hill’s Alexander Bolton, on topics ranging from the debt limit to the annual spending bills — and heightening the likelihood of a national default or government shutdown.
One of the conservatives who held out against McCarthy, Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.), demanded that the GOP leader be willing to shut down the government to extract deep concessions on spending from Democrats. Democrats have refused to negotiate on the debt limit over the past decade, but Senate aides note that when Biden was vice president, he helped negotiate the Budget Control Act, which put steep cuts and later budget sequestration in effect. The question now is whether Biden will pressure Senate Democrats to make concessions to enhance his 2024 reelection prospects.
▪ Roll Call: For new GOP House majority, a focus on abortion messaging.
▪ The Hill: Here’s who’s on the GOP committee that helps pick panel chairs.
▪ Foreign Policy: In Biden’s shadow, progressives are forging their own foreign-policy agenda.
A bipartisan group of senators from states including Texas, Delaware and Arizona is participating in a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border this week to see “the crisis” firsthand, according to Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), one of the participating lawmakers.
“The humanitarian and national security crisis at our southern border has created untenable and unacceptable challenges for Texas communities along the U.S.-Mexico border, which is why I’m glad my colleagues from across the country will see the impacts of this firsthand,” Cornyn said. “On this visit, we will hear from the men and women working around the clock to manage the strain of this crisis, and I hope this will result in meaningful discussions about finally securing our border and giving these communities tangible relief.”
The trip comes a day after Biden made his own visit to the border for the first time since his election. The lawmakers are set to tour various points along the border in El Paso and Yuma, Texas, meet with U.S. Border Patrol and the Customs and Border Protection Office of Field Operations, and tour Border Patrol processing centers. Joining Cornyn on the trip are Sens. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) — co-sponsors of the trip — and Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) (KVUE).
Biden on Monday spoke with recently inaugurated President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, condemning the violence of supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro who on Sunday stormed the country’s Congress, Supreme Court and other government offices in protest of his election loss last fall.
“Biden conveyed the unwavering support of the United States for Brazil’s democracy and for the free will of the Brazilian people as expressed in Brazil’s recent presidential election, which President Lula won,” according to a joint statement by Biden and Lula. Biden also “condemned the violence and the attack on democratic institutions and on the peaceful transfer of power” and invited Lula to visit the White House in February, which he accepted (The Hill).
Some rank-and-file members of Congress are calling on the U.S. to extradite Bolsonaro, who had reportedly been holed up in a rental property in Orlando, Fla. His wife on Monday said on Instagram that her husband was hospitalized in Florida with abdominal pain she said was linked to a 2018 stabbing injury (NBC News and The New York Times).
“Nearly 2 years to the day the US Capitol was attacked by fascists, we see fascist movements abroad attempt to do the same in Brazil,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), tweeted, adding that the “US must cease granting refuge to Bolsonaro in Florida.”
In Mexico City, Biden may have embraced Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for photographers while heading into a bilateral meeting tied to a North American Leaders’ Summit, but the exchange Monday, described by reporters, was served cold.
Obrador challenged Biden to shed an attitude of “abandonment” and “disdain” for Latin America and the Caribbean, telling the U.S. president “you hold the key in your hand.” Biden, who brought a handful of his Cabinet officials with him, defended billions of dollars in U.S. aid dispersed around the world, saying “unfortunately our responsibility just doesn’t end in the Western Hemisphere.”
The president, who will be back at the White House late tonight, also meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Discussions between the U.S. and Canada today are expected to focus on energy as well as Russia’s war with Ukraine (USA Today).
IN FOCUS/SHARP TAKES
Much will be reported this year about mashups of policy and politics ahead of the next presidential election as candidates of all stripes work to gain voters’ attention. In his latest Memo, The Hill’s Niall Stanage turns his attention to the subject of police reform and draws on a new book by two investigative journalists who put California’s Oakland Police Department under a spotlight.
The cause of improving policing may have receded in Washington with the Republican takeover of the House and after the failure of last year’s bipartisan push for new law, led by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.). Stanage interviewed Ali Winston and Darwin BondGraham, the authors of “The Riders Come Out at Night: Brutality, Corruption and Cover-up in Oakland,” which makes the case that police reform is necessary, improves policing and builds trust. As one reviewer said of the book’s conclusions, police agencies are incapable of policing themselves (San Francisco Chronicle).
Trump on Monday continued his long-simmering feud with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), urging on his social media platform that GOP candidates challenge the Republican leader in the next primary (along with other Senate Republicans who vote with McConnell) (The Hill). McConnell blames Trump for some of the GOP Senate losses last year following Trump’s backing of candidates that McConnell says proved flawed and inexperienced.
The Alabama Republican Party on Monday said its steering committee “cannot support or endorse” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who is vying to keep her job coming out of the party’s winter gathering this month. The Alabama GOP declared its “vote of no-confidence” in McDaniel and called for fresh “vision,” although she remains the favorite to win. She has steered the RNC since 2017, overseeing a White House defeat and losses of the GOP’s Senate majority in 2020 and the House Republican majority in 2018. McDaniel is being challenged by Harmeet Dhillon, who represented Trump in lawsuits related to the 2020 election. To retain her position, McDaniel needs to win the support of a majority among 168 total members (ABC News and The Hill).
Florida Politics: Florida Democratic Party Chairman Manny Diaz resigned from office on Monday, two months after the state party suffered one of its worst election results in modern history.
Roll Call: The Campaign Legal Center, a Washington group that focuses on political money laws, on Monday filed a 50-page complaint with the Federal Election Commission detailing potential violations of federal election laws by Santos. He has conceded he fabricated details of his biography, background, work experience, and elements of campaign presentations to voters. He also faces 2008 check fraud charges in Brazil.
The Hill: In Virginia, Democrats are closely eyeing a special state Senate race today hoping to flip the seat. The special election for the seventh state senate district, which encompasses a portion of the greater Virginia Beach area, was previously held by GOP Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.).
■ Brazil’s copycat insurrection won’t be the last, by Jessica Karl, social media editor, Bloomberg Opinion. https://bloom.bg/3VXCJif
■ Allies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) plot the hostile takeover of a liberal college, by Michelle Goldberg, opinion columnist, The New York Times. https://nyti.ms/3WZLObs
WHERE AND WHEN
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The House will meet at 10 a.m.
The Senate will convene at 10 a.m. for a pro forma session.
The president is in Mexico City for a North American summit with leaders of Mexico and Canada. Biden meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this morning. The president will head to the National Palace for a photo with host Obrador and Trudeau, after which the three leaders will begin their summit session at 1:30 p.m. The trio will deliver statements at 3:45 p.m. Biden and first lady Jill Biden will depart the National Palace at 4:55 p.m. to return to the White House at 10:20 p.m.
Vice President Harris is in Washington and has no public events.
The attorney general is in Mexico City with the president.
Blinken is in Mexico City with the president.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen will participate in a bilateral meeting with Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Special Presidential Envoy for Climate Change John Kerry is in Mexico City with Biden.
Brazilian soldiers, backed by police, on Monday dismantled a camp of Bolsonaro supporters in the capital, Brasilia, a day after thousands of rioters launched the worst attack on state institutions since the country’s return to democracy in the 1980s, storming Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential palace (Reuters). On Monday, Lula promised to bring the rioters to justice as he toured the destruction. Lula on Sunday had made an official statement saying he would sign an emergency decree, in effect until Jan. 31, allowing the federal government to implement “any measures necessary” to calm the unrest in the capital (Vox).
“The terrorists who promote the destruction of public spaces in Brasília are being identified and punished,” he tweeted Monday. “Tomorrow we will resume work at the Presidential Palace. Democracy forever. Good night.”
▪ The Hill: Here are five things to know about the crisis in Brazil.
▪ The Washington Post: Come to the “war cry party”: How social media helped drive mayhem in Brazil.
▪ Vox: What comes after Brazil’s Jan. 8?
▪ The Washington Post: Videos of the Brazil attack show striking similarities to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Earlier in the war against Russia, Ukraine’s leadership was more equivocal about pitched battles with high casualties. But this time, The New York Times reports, there’s no second-guessing as Ukrainian forces go toe to toe with Russia in Bakhmut. Some analysts say it makes sense strategically. An analysis by Rob Lee and Michael Kofman, published last month by the Foreign Policy Research Institute, supported the attritional fighting. The pitched battle weakened the Russian army enough for two Ukrainian counterattacks in the fall to succeed, they wrote, and those offensives delivered two of the most embarrassing defeats of the war to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The amount of ammunition Russia expended and the casualties they took set up the Russian Army for failure,” Lee told the Times.
Putin has only one option left but won’t accept it, says Ukraine’s foreign minister. “It’s up [to] the U.S. government and other partners of Ukraine to make their decisions on how long they are going to support us,” Dmytro Kuleba told NPR’s “All Things Considered” on Monday. “But we have made our choice, we have made the decision. We are going to fight against an invader as long as we can breathe.”
▪ Reuters: Russia pushes to capture Ukraine’s Soledar amid fierce fighting.
▪ The Washington Post: Ukraine sees “year of victory” in 2023 but Russia has other plans.
Seattle Public Schools is suing social media companies including TikTok, Snapchat and Meta — Facebook and Instagram’s parent company — saying the tech giants’ “misconduct has been a substantial factor in causing a youth mental health crisis.”
The school district claims that it has seen a 30 percent increase of students who said they feel “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that [they] stopped doing some usual activities” from 2009 to 2019. There was also a nationwide increase in students experiencing persistent feelings of sadness and who seriously considered, planned for and attempted suicide during the same period, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CBS News and Axios).
“This mental health crisis is no accident,” the Seattle district’s lawsuit against the companies says. “It is the result of the Defendants’ deliberate choices and affirmative actions to design and market their social media platforms to attract youth.”
▪ The Wall Street Journal: Tech industry reversal intensifies with new rounds of layoffs.
▪ Axios: See how much tech companies are paying workers.
▪ Nexstar/NBC4: Ohio bans TikTok, other Chinese-operated apps on state-owned devices.
➤ PANDEMIC & HEALTH
Increasingly, alcohol-related cirrhosis, or liver disease, is killing younger people in the U.S., new data show. According to a 2018 study, between 2009 and 2016, deaths attributed to alcohol-related cirrhosis had been consistently rising, with the sharpest increase among those in the 25-34 age group. COVID-19 made it worse. Between 2017 and 2020, deaths from alcohol-associated liver disease continued to rise, with an acceleration during the first year of the pandemic, according to a report published in March 2022 in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
“We’re definitely seeing younger and younger patients coming in with what we previously thought was advanced liver disease seen in patients only in their 50s and 60s,” Jessica Mellinger, a liver specialist at the University of Michigan Medical School, told NBC News.
For the first time, retail pharmacies, such as CVS and Walgreens, will be able to dispense abortion medication pills directly to consumers in states where the procedure is legal. Still, despite the early January rule change from the Food and Drug Administration, the two-drug regimen is unlikely to be available at neighborhood pharmacies anytime soon, as implementing the requirements to dispense mifepristone is time-consuming and may dissuade smaller stores from participating (The Washington Post).
▪ NPR: A “medical cost-sharing” plan left this minister to pay most of his $160,000 bill.
▪ National Geographic: COVID-19 is more widespread in animals than we thought.
▪ Reuters: Omicron COVID-19 booster shots cut hospitalization rates in over 65s, Israeli study finds.
▪ Reuters: Pfizer CEO rules out generic COVID-19 drug Paxlovid for China.
Total U.S. coronavirus deaths reported as of this morning, according to Johns Hopkins University (trackers all vary slightly): 1,096,751. Current U.S. COVID-19 deaths are 2,731 for the week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (The CDC shifted its tally of available data from daily to weekly, now reported on Fridays.)
And finally … 🇺🇳 Today marks the 75th anniversary of the first meeting of the United Nations. On Jan. 10, 1948, the first General Assembly of the United Nations, comprising 51 nations, convened at Westminster Central Hall in London. A week later, the U.N. Security Council met for the first time and established its rules of procedure, and on Jan. 24, the General Assembly adopted its first resolution — a measure calling for the peaceful uses of atomic energy and the elimination of atomic and other weapons of mass destruction.
The groundwork for the U.N. was laid four years earlier, at the Dumbarton Oaks conference in Washington, D.C., where Allied delegates drew up plans for an international organization to maintain peace and security in the postwar world — one with considerably more power than the defunct League of Nations. Delegates from 51 nations convened in San Francisco in April 1945 to draft the United Nations Charter (History). Now, the U.N.’s General Assembly is headquartered in New York City, and the body counts 193 member states (U.N.).
North American Leaders Summit