WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden addressed the controversy over classified documents discovered at his former office in Washington on Tuesday, saying he was “surprised” to learn of their existence and that his attorneys have been “fully cooperating” with the government’s review of the records.
“People know I take classified documents and classified information seriously,” Biden said at a news conference in Mexico City in response to a question. “I was briefed on this discovery and was surprised to learn that there were any government records taken there to that office. But I have no idea what’s in the documents. My lawyers have not advised me to inquire as to what they were.”
Fewer than a dozen documents with classified markings were discovered in Biden’s office while he was out of the country, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
The White House confirmed on Monday a CBS News report that a “small number of documents” with classified markings that appeared to be from the Obama administration had been discovered at a think tank affiliated with Biden.
The admission sparked outrage from Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, whose Florida home was raided last year in search of documents he had removed from the White House.
Republicans in Congress have launched an investigation into the Biden documents. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the chairman of the Oversight and Reform Committee, asked White House counsel Stuart Delery for “documents and information related to the White House’s handling of this matter” in a letter sent Tuesday.
A source familiar with the situation previously confirmed that Attorney General Merrick Garland asked US Attorney for Northern Illinois John R. Lausch to investigate how classified material ended up at the Penn Biden Center. According to the source, the review was assigned to Lausch, a holdover Trump appointee, to avoid any conflict of interest.
On Tuesday, two senior law enforcement officials told NBC News that Lausch has been reviewing the findings of FBI agents for several weeks. Although the investigation is not yet complete, Garland has been briefed on the preliminary findings, according to sources. It is now up to Garland to decide whether to launch a criminal investigation; Lausch’s review was only a preliminary inquiry.
The documents were discovered by Biden’s attorneys on Nov. 2 in a locked closet as they prepared to vacate office space at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, according to Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president.
In February 2018, the University of Pennsylvania leased a suite of offices for the centre, including one for Biden’s personal use while in Washington.
The documents in Trump’s possession were discovered at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, and were obtained in part through requests to the National Archives and, later, through an FBI search warrant.
Over 300 documents with classification markings were recovered from Trump by federal investigators.