What we know so far about the classified documents discovered in Biden’s office

(CNN) — The discovery of documents with classified marks in a Washington office used by President Joe Biden after his time as vice president might have been a relatively small story that received little attention.

But it’s a big problem in large part because former President Donald Trump, who wants to run against Biden in 2024, waged and lost a public war against the National Archives over presidential documents.

The circumstances of the classified documents apparently kept by the two men appear to be so different as to defy comparison, as CNN’s Stephen Collinson points out, though at the very least, it’s not a good look that Biden’s lawyers discovered classified documents in his former office. when he did not hold public office.

In September, Biden called Trump’s treatment of the documents “totally irresponsible.”

Responding to a question from “60 Minutes” about an image of classified documents strewn across the floor at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, Biden said his reaction was: “How can that happen? How one, or anyone, could be so irresponsible. I thought, ‘What data was there that could compromise sources and methods?’ By that I mean, the names of the people who advised him, and so on. And it’s just… (it’s) totally irresponsible.”

You will now have to answer questions about your own treatment of classified documents.

Biden talks about the documents found in his office 0:40

On the one hand, Biden’s lawyers quickly turned over the few classified documents they discovered to the National Archives and Records Administration. Separately, last summer the FBI searched areas of Trump’s main residence in Mar-a-Lago after he misled the existence of boxes of documents and obstructed their seizure.

Both men’s treatment of classified documents is now under active investigation by Justice Department attorneys.

Here’s what we know so far about Biden’s classified documents and what could happen next. Much of this comes from a report by CNN’s Jamie Gangel and a statement by Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president.

Where were the Biden documents found?

The documents were discovered in a locked cabinet in an office used by Biden as part of his relationship with the University of Pennsylvania. The Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement is home to the University of Pennsylvania in Washington, and opened in 2018 in a building across Constitution Avenue from the US Senate, where Biden spent much of his time. his career. Biden was an honorary professor at the University of Pennsylvania from 2017 to 2019.

When were the documents found?

The documents were found in early November 2022, a week before the midterm elections, by Biden’s lawyers.

How did the public learn of the existence of these documents?

CBS News reported Monday that Attorney General Merrick Garland has assigned a prosecutor, the US Attorney in Chicago, to review the documents.

Why wasn’t the discovery announced sooner?

Technically it was not announced at all. The CBS report on the involvement of the US attorney in Chicago was the first public word on these documents. It is unclear if his discovery will lead to any official action, court case or report.

Classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president found 2:26

Who found the documents?

The president’s lawyers found the documents as they were closing down the office Biden used in Washington, according to Sauber. That’s an important distinction from the status of classified Trump documents at his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Biden’s private lawyers found the documents and then notified the National Archives. For Trump, the National Archives spent more than a year searching for documents from his time as president and sought legal avenues all the way to the Supreme Court.

What is the nature of the documents found?

Fewer than a dozen documents were found, and Sauber, Biden’s adviser, said they “appear to be Obama-Biden administration records.”

By way of comparison, Trump refused to hand over hundreds of documents marked as secret or top secret.

CNN’s Gangel and Marshall Cohen reported Tuesday that, according to a source, Biden’s documents covered topics including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom.

What kind of classified marks did the documents have?

Gangel reported that the classified materials included some top-secret files with the designation “sensitive compartmentalized information” which is used for highly sensitive information obtained from intelligence sources.

Who is the federal prosecutor in Chicago?

John R. Lausch is the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Garland may have gone to Lausch for this investigation since Trump appointed Lausch to the post in 2017 and would therefore avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest facing a Biden-appointed prosecutor, people briefed on the matter told Cohen. and Evan from CNN. Perez.

What does Garland say?

Nothing publicly. By way of comparison, Garland only spoke publicly about the search for Mar-a-Lago after Trump publicly announced that the search was underway. Trump’s attacks on the FBI led to an increase in threats against agents.

Where are the documents now?

Biden’s lawyers immediately informed the National Archives and turned them over to Archives officials the next day, according to CBS.

What is the opinion of the National Archives?

The Archives has yet to issue a public statement, but Gangel’s source told him that the Archives views the situation as a mistake.

What does Biden say about the documents?

Biden said he was “shocked to learn that there were government records that were brought there to that office,” in response to a reporter’s question at a news conference in Mexico City where he was attending a trilateral summit with leaders. from Mexico and the United States. Canada.

He stressed that he does not know what is in the documents that were found in the office. Neither Biden nor his White House legal team reviewed them before they were turned over to the National Archives.

The president said his lawyers “did what they should have done” by immediately calling the Archives.

“People know that I take classified documents, classified information seriously,” Biden added, saying the documents were found in “a box, a locked cabinet, or at least a closet.”

What has been the response from the Republican Party?

Rep. James Comer, the Kentucky Republican who now chairs the House Oversight Committee, sent letters to the White House Attorney’s Office and the National Archives in what marks the opening salvo of the congressional investigations led by the Republicans on Biden’s handling of classified material.

Letter to White House Counsel Stuart Delery: Comer Requested All Documents Recovered From Biden’s Personal Office Where Classified Documents Were Found; a list of the people who had access to that office; all documents and communications between the White House, the Department of Justice, and the National Archives regarding the documents that were recovered; and all documents and communications related to the handling of classified material by Biden’s personal attorneys, including their security clearance statements.

Letter to Acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall: Comer reiterated his panel’s focus on whether NARA is “politically biased,” even though NARA did not prompt the search of Trump’s home, and requested all documents between NARA, the Department of Justice, The White House and Biden’s lawyers related to the classified documents found.

Timeline: Comer wants documents and other information released no later than January 24, as well as NARA General Counsel Gary Stern and NARA Director of Congressional Affairs John Hamilton available for transcribed interviews with commission staff no later than January 17.

— CNN’s Annie Grayer, Sara Murray and Allie Malloy contributed to this report.

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