The White House this week disclosed that lawyers for President Biden found classified documents from his time as vice president in two different locations, creating a political headache and spawning a fresh Justice Department review.
One batch was found last November at Biden’s old University of Pennsylvania office in Washington, D.C., while more documents were found at his home in Wilmington, Del. The Justice Department is investigating the matter.
The White House has said it believes the review will show the documents were inadvertently misplaced.
Here’s what we know about the Biden documents so far.
A ‘small number’ of documents were found at Biden’s old office and home
The first batch of documents were first discovered on Nov. 2, 2022, at a Washington office Biden used when he worked as an honorary professor for the University of Pennsylvania from 2017-2019.
There were reportedly 10 documents there with classified markings mixed in with other personal materials, such as information about Beau Biden’s funeral, which took place in 2015. The documents reportedly contained briefing material about Ukraine, the United Kingdom and Iran.
A second batch of classified documents were found in a storage space in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington, Del., residence on Dec. 20, 2022, and another one-page document was discovered among stored materials in an adjacent room. The search of Biden’s residence was completed on Wednesday.
The White House would not specify how many documents were found, other than to say it was a “small number.”
Biden, speaking to reporters after the White House disclosed the second discovery, said some of the materials were in a “personal library,” while others were in a locked garage.
“By the way, my Corvette is in a locked garage. OK?” Biden said Thursday in response to a questions about where the documents were reportedly stored. “So, it’s not like they’re sitting out in the street.”
The first batch was found in November, spurring a search for other documents
Biden attorneys were cleaning out his old office at the Penn Biden Center last November when they came across the first batch of documents.
While the discovery was made six days before the midterm elections, the White House did not disclose the findings until after they were reported by CBS News earlier this week.
“Following the discovery of government documents at the Penn Biden Center in November 2022, and coordinating closely with the Department of Justice, the President’s lawyers have searched the President’s Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, residences – the other locations where files from his Vice-Presidential office might have been shipped in the course of the 2017 transition,” Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a statement.
That review was completed on Wednesday night, the White House said, and a small number of additional documents were found as part of that search.
But Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Department of Justice was alerted on Dec. 20, 2022, of the documents recovered at Biden’s home. One additional document was found this week at the home, he said.
The White House did not disclose the discoveries until they were reported publicly, and they have not offered details about how the documents ended up in Biden’s office and home, prompting questions from reporters about transparency throughout the process.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Thursday said “you should assume” that the review is done, adding that “the search is complete,” in response to questions about whether any other documents might be discovered.
The Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to handle the matter
U.S. Attorney Robert Hur (pictured on Nov. 21, 2019). (AP Photo/Steve Ruark, File)
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday appointed Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the discovery of classified documents.
Hur, a Trump appointee who served as the U.S. attorney in Maryland, will return to the department to conduct the investigation. Hur resigned from his post under Trump in early 2021.
Prior to his appointment, he was an assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland and prosecuted gang violence, drug trafficking, firearm offense, and financial crimes. He was also previously a clerk for former Chief Justice William Rehnquist.
The decision to appoint a special counsel followed the announcement of additional classified documents found at Biden’s Wilmington residence.
The White House was not given a heads up about a special counsel being appointed, Jean-Pierre said on Thursday. Biden was attending a memorial service in Washington when Garland made his announcement.
The Department of Justice in November appointed special counsel Jack Smith to oversee the investigation into former President Trump’s mishandling of records after classified documents were seized by the FBI from his Mar-a-Lago residence.
Biden said he was surprised by the discoveries
President Joe Biden speaks on Jan. 12, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Biden said that he is unaware of what documents were found at his former office in Washington, adding that he was surprised to learn that such records were kept there. The president said his lawyers suggested he not ask what was in the documents.
The president confirmed the second batch of documents were found in his garage, but he made it clear that the garage was locked by mentioning that his corvette also sits in the Wilmington houses’ garage.
“As I said earlier this week, people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously,” Biden said Thursday. “I also said we’re cooperating fully and completely with the Justice Department’s review.”
Biden and the White House has emphasized throughout the week that he takes the handling of classified documents seriously and is cooperating with the review of the documents.
“He was surprised that these records have been found, he does not know what’s in them, and when his team identified that these documents were there, they immediately reached out to the Archives and the Department of Justice,” Jean-Pierre said.
Further details about what the documents contain are currently unknown beyond CNN reporting they were briefing materials about the three countries.
White House says it’s cooperating with DOJ and National Archives
The White House has made a point to emphasize its communication with the Department of Justice and the National Archives throughout the process since the first batch of documents were discovered.
Officials said lawyers immediately alerted the National Archives upon finding the classified materials in Biden’s old office in Washington, D.C., and the documents were turned over to the Department of Justice the next day.
In the case of the documents found in Biden’s Wilmington residence, lawyers again immediately notified the Department of Justice and arranged to have the materials turned over.
The White House has “cooperated closely with the Justice Department throughout its review, and we will continue that cooperation with the Special Counsel,” according to a statement from Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, on Thursday.
Sauber also said that he is confident that the investigation into the discovery of the documents will find that Biden accidentally misplaced them.
“We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake,” he said.
The case is different from the one involving former President Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks at Mar-a-Lago Friday, Nov. 18, 2022 in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Republicans have been quick to attack Biden over the discovery of classified materials, particularly given Democrats have hammered former President Trump for months over his handling of sensitive government documents after he left the White House.
But while both Biden and Trump may have failed to properly turn classified materials over to the National Archives before leaving office, the cases bear significant differences.
The sheer number of documents is one major difference. In Biden’s case, roughly a dozen documents were discovered at his Washington office, while a “small number” was found at his Delaware home.
Authorities have recovered hundreds of documents from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate over the past year, including more than 150 taken during a search last January that preceded an August FBI search. The Justice Department recovered materials labeled “secret” and “top secret” in the process.
Biden’s team alerted the National Archives and the Department of Justice about the discovery shortly after the documents were found, according to the White House, while officials had requested documents from Trump multiple times before the FBI search was conducted.
Jean-Pierre said on Thursday that the Biden team alerted the archives and Department of Justice “the minute” that lawyers found them.
To request the documents, officials subpoenaed Trump and eventually issued a warrant to search his Florida home.
Biden’s team has also stressed that it is cooperating with review of the documents to set a distinction between the situation with Trump, whose attorneys are battling DOJ in court.
National security spokesman John Kirby reiterated that Biden takes the handling of classified documents seriously when asked on Thursday if the discovery of these documents sparks any national security concerns.
“As somebody who’s aware of the process myself, [Biden] did exactly the right thing, which is to have them immediately turned over,” Kirby said.