WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday appointed a special counsel to investigate the presence of documents with classified markings found at President Joe Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at an office in Washington.
The announcement followed Biden’s confirmation Thursday morning that a document with secret markings from his time as vice president was found in his personal library, along with other documents found in his garage. It was announced on Monday that sensitive documents had been found in his office and the former institute in Washington.
Robert Hur, the former Trump-appointed US Attorney in Maryland, will lead the investigation, replacing the Justice Department’s chief prosecutor in Chicago, John Lausch, who was previously assigned by the department to investigate the matter. Hur is scheduled to begin work soon.
The appointment of another special counsel to investigate the handling of classified documents is a remarkable turn of events, both legal and political, for a Justice Department that has spent months investigating Donald Trump’s keeping of more than 300 documents with classification marks at the estate former president in Florida.
While the situations are factually and legally different, the discovery of classified documents linked to Biden in two different locations — as well as the appointment of a new special counsel — would almost certainly complicate any prosecution the department might pursue against Trump.
Biden told reporters at the White House that he was “fully cooperating” with a Justice Department investigation into how classified information and government records are stored. He did not say when the latest batch of documents was found, only that his lawyers’ review of possible storage locations was completed Wednesday night. Lawyers found the first in a locked cabinet in the offices of the Biden Penn Center in Washington on Nov. 2, just before the midterm elections, but didn’t publicly reveal the development until Monday.
Richard Sauber, a special adviser to the president, said that after Biden’s personal attorneys found the first documents, they investigated other locations where records might have been sent after Biden left the vice presidency in 2017.
Sauber said a “small number” with classified markings were found in a storage room in Biden’s Wilmington garage, with a document in an adjacent room. Biden later revealed the other location was his personal library.
Biden said the Justice Department was “notified immediately” after the documents were found and the department’s attorneys took custody of the records. The first batch of documents had been turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
Hur was a close ally of former Assistant Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a key figure in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election and contacts between then-candidate Trump’s staff and Russian officials. He also served as an advisor to FBI Director Christopher Wray at the Justice Department.
Speaker of the new House of Representatives Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said of the latest news, “I think Congress needs to look into this.”
“Here’s a person who sat on ’60 Minutes’ and was so concerned about President Trump’s locked documents, and now we find that this is a vice president who has kept them open in various places for years.”
He disagreed with several other Republicans, saying, “We don’t think there needs to be a special prosecutor.”
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has called on the intelligence community to conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents. Ohio Rep. Mike Turner on Thursday also requested briefings from Attorney General Merrick Garland and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on their investigations through Jan. 26.
“The presence of classified information in these separate locations could implicate the President in the mishandling, potential misuse, and disclosure of classified information,” Turner wrote to officials.
The revelation that additional classified documents were uncovered by Biden’s team came hours after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dodged questions about Biden’s handling of classified information and the West Wing’s management of the discovery.
She had said Wednesday the White House was determined to handle the matter “properly,” citing Biden’s personal attorneys immediately notifying the National Archives.
But she refused to say when Biden himself had been briefed, whether there were other classified documents that might have been in other unauthorized locations, and why the White House waited more than two months to discover the first batch of documents to reveal.
Biden said he was “surprised to learn that there are any government records that were brought there to that office,” but his attorneys “did what they should have done” when they immediately called the National Archives.
Associated Press contributors Nomaan Merchant and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
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