The week everything changed for the Biden White House
(CNN) — President Joe Biden had started the year with the political winds in his favor.
Amid the chaos of a fractured Republican majority failing to elect the speaker of the House of Representatives, his administration was making a major public effort to show how laws that bolster its ambitious policy priorities were delivering tangible results.
The Democrats had escaped a beating in the midterms and retained a majority in the Senate. There were signs that inflation was beginning to abate. His party had coalesced around his possible re-election bid. And his most apparent Republican rival had yet to win the full support of his base.
But in just one week, Biden’s political trajectory has changed radically.
News broke a week ago that classified documents from Biden’s tenure as vice president had been found in his former personal office in November 2022. And now the White House has grown defensive over questions about the lack of transparency and potential legal issues related to the location of misplaced documents.
This is how the story unfolded:
Monday, January 9: News emerges about classified documents in Biden’s former personal office
News that classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president were discovered last fall in his private Washington office was reported by CBS News moments after his entourage arrived at the National Palace in Washington. Mexico for a bilateral meeting with the President of Mexico.
The president was silent when asked about the documents during that meeting on Monday, where he was sitting next to Attorney General Merrick Garland, who had quietly assigned Chicago US Attorney John Lausch Jr. the investigation of the matter.
According to White House lawyers, this initial set of documents was found by the president’s personal lawyers as they were closing down the downtown Washington office that Biden used as part of his work with the University of Pennsylvania, which was not authorized to store classified material.
CNN reported that following the discovery, Biden’s lawyers immediately contacted the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which began investigating the matter.
Biden’s team cooperated with NARA. In November, NARA submitted a report to the Justice Department to investigate the matter.
Tuesday, January 10: Biden addresses the documents controversy for the first time
According to a source familiar with the matter, CNN reported that the 10 classified documents included memos from US intelligence services and briefing material on topics including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom. The CNN reports also show that Biden and his White House legal team don’t know exactly what the classified documents contain because they didn’t review them, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
In the evening, Biden said he was unaware that government files from his time as vice president had been taken to his private office after he left public service.
“I was surprised to learn that there were government records that were taken to that office,” Biden said in response to a reporter’s question at a press conference in Mexico City, where he was attending a trilateral summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. .
Biden stressed that he is unaware of the content of the documents.
A source familiar with Lausch’s work also told CNN on Tuesday that the US attorney had already completed the initial part of his investigation and provided his preliminary findings to Garland.
Garland decided to have Lausch conduct the investigation of the Biden documents because he is one of two remaining Trump-appointed US attorneys, and to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because he was not appointed by Biden, people briefed on the matter said. .
Wednesday, January 11: News emerges of a second batch of documents found elsewhere
The White House on Wednesday declined to answer a series of critical questions about classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president discovered inside a private office last fall, citing an ongoing Justice Department review.
The documents were discovered on November 2, just six days before the midterm elections, but the president’s lawyers did not publicly acknowledge the discovery of the documents until January 9, when news of the discovery broke.
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre would not say who brought the documents to the office or whether any other documents were found. She was also unable to say whether an audit was underway to locate other possible documents or when the discovery of the documents had been reported to the president.
Nor could it ensure that there was no more classified material in other offices.
“This is being reviewed by the Department of Justice. I’m not going to go any further than what the president shared yesterday,” Jean-Pierre said, repeating the explanation in a nutshell during Wednesday’s news conference. “I’m not going to go beyond what my White House counsel colleagues shared with all of you as well.”
On Wednesday night it was reported that more documents with classified marking had been discovered during a search of Biden’s two Delaware residences, located in Rehoboth Beach and Wilmington. The news on Wednesday did not specify where the new documents had been found. They just said a “second location”.
Garland would later say that the White House counsel’s office informed the Justice Department of the second batch of documents on December 20.
Thursday, January 12: Justice Department announces special counsel
The White House confirmed news from the previous day that more classified documents had been found in Wilmington. The documents were found “among personal and political papers” in Wilmington, the White House said.
Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a statement that Biden’s lawyers had completed their review of the Delaware homes Wednesday night. The documents were located in a storage room in Biden’s garage and in an adjacent room. No classified documents were found on the Rehoboth property, Sauber said.
In remarks following that confirmation, Biden said the documents were in a “locked garage” and that he was fully cooperating with the Justice Department.
“It’s not like they’re on the street,” he insisted when a reporter asked him why he kept classified material next to a sports car.
The president said he would “have the opportunity to talk about all this, God willing, soon.”
Within hours of those statements, Garland took the extraordinary step of appointing a special prosecutor to take charge of the investigation. The attorney general’s announcement considerably expanded the ongoing investigation.
Special counsel Robert Hur was appointed federal prosecutor in Maryland by then-President Donald Trump in 2017 and served until his resignation in 2021.
CNN also reported Thursday that Kathy Chung, the Pentagon’s deputy director for protocol, was interviewed as part of the Justice Department’s investigation into the handling of the documents. Chung previously worked as Biden’s executive assistant while she was vice president.
Saturday, January 14: Announcement that more documents have been discovered in Wilmington
The White House announced Saturday that Biden’s aides found five additional pages of classified material at his Wilmington residence on Thursday, the same day a special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the matter.
The find came just hours after Sauber’s statement specifically citing the discovery of a single document.
That disclosure was the third in a week, and the second time the initial information provided was shown to be incomplete. In fact, Sauber had said that the search of Biden’s homes had concluded on Wednesday night, although the additional five pages were discovered on Thursday night.
The new pages were found when a White House attorney went to Wilmington to facilitate the transfer of the classified document found at Biden’s home to Justice Department officials, Sauber said.
Five more pages of classified material found at Biden’s Wilmington residence
Biden’s personal lawyer also tried to explain on Saturday why he and other members of Biden’s team have not been fully forthcoming about the findings.
“The President’s personal attorneys have attempted to balance the importance of public transparency where appropriate with established standards and limitations necessary to protect the integrity of the investigation,” Bob Bauer said in a statement. “These considerations require avoiding public disclosure of details relevant to the investigation while it is ongoing.”
Bauer added that releasing more details about the case could “complicate the ability of the authorities conducting the review to obtain information easily, and in a non-compromising manner.”
Monday, January 15: No records of visits to Biden’s home in Wilmington
The White House counsel’s office also disclosed Monday that there are no visitation logs monitoring people going in and out of Biden’s Wilmington home.
House Republicans have demanded that the White House turn over all information related to the documents, including any records of visitors to Biden’s private residence and who might have had access to his private office in Washington.
“Like all presidents through decades of modern history, his personal residence is a personal one,” the attorney’s office said in a statement Monday morning. “But upon taking office, President Biden reinstated the norm and tradition of keeping records of White House visitors, including their regular publication, after the prior administration ended them.”
— MJ Lee, Jamie Gangel, Marshall Cohen, Evan Perez, Zachary Cohen, Arlette Saenz, Phil Mattingly, Kevin Liptak and Paula Reid contributed reporting.