Biden’s classified-document headache worsens with second batch

Jordan Fabian and Justin Sink
Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s efforts to quell a controversy over classified documents in his private possession became more difficult after aides discovered a second set, a development that will intensify scrutiny of the president.

The revelation, reported Wednesday by NBC News and The New York Times, that records were found at a separate location from the first set are likely to prompt tough questions for the White House and fuel criticism from Republicans — even though they dismiss more serious accusations against former President Donald Trump.

While the different approaches taken by Trump and Biden toward the documents have made it hard for Republicans to draw an equivalence, the string of discoveries will raise pressure on the White House to answer questions it has dismissed.

FILE - President Joe Biden waves before boarding Air Force One at El Paso International Airport in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, to travel to Mexico City, Mexico. The Justice Department is reviewing a batch of potentially classified documents found in the Washington office space of President Joe Biden's former institute, the White House said Monday, Jan. 9. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

MORE:DOJ reviewing potentially classified docs at Biden center

MORE:Judge unseals more of FBI affidavit on search of Trump's Florida estate

MORE:Trump docs probe: Court lifts hold on Mar-a-Lago records

Aides have repeatedly declined to say why classified material dating from Biden’s time as vice president wasn’t in the government’s possession and why the discovery of the first batch wasn’t disclosed sooner.

The developments have politically complicated the case against Trump, though Democrats have defended Biden by pointing out that his representatives immediately returned the materials upon their discovery unlike Trump’s efforts to fight their return.

Yet Biden’s criticism of Trump as “totally irresponsible” over his storage of classified material at his Mar-a-Lago estate has opened the current president up to fresh accusations of hypocrisy. It has also created more fodder for Republicans investigating the president using the powers of their new House majority.

House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer announced Tuesday that the panel was investigating the matter, writing in a letter to the White House counsel that it was only appropriate given Biden’s comments about the importance of protecting classified material.

“The committee is concerned that President Biden has compromised sources and methods with his own mishandling of classified documents,” Comer wrote.

The second batch of documents was discovered in an separate location connected to Biden after initial set of classified materials was found by Biden lawyers in a locked closet at the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center office. The White House said those documents were returned within hours to the National Archives, but the contents and fate of the second set weren’t clear.

It was also unclear when the second batch was discovered, or if it represents the totality of classified materials that appear to have been improperly removed as Biden concluded his tenure as vice president.

The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department declined to comment.

At a news conference in Mexico City on Tuesday, Biden said he was surprised to learn that classified documents had been found at that office.

“But I don’t know what’s in the documents,” the president added.

Earlier Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly declined to answer questions about what efforts the administration was taking to ensure that all classified materials had been found, or whether Biden’s residences in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, had been searched. She also refused to answer why lawyers were involved in packing up the Biden Center office.

Jean-Pierre, pointing to a Justice Department inquiry, also declined to answer questions about why the White House waited months to acknowledge the first discovery — and only did so after a CBS News report.

“I understand the question, but there’s an ongoing process,” Jean-Pierre told reporters. “It’s being reviewed by the Department of Justice. When it is appropriate for us to say more, we will.”

Republican lawmakers have questioned the decision to delay disclosing the discovery, suggesting a political motivation and pointing out that the documents were discovered by Biden attorneys less than a week before the November midterm elections.

“Why didn’t the ‘Justice’ Department announce the Highly Classified documents found in the Biden Office before the Election?” Trump said in a post to his social media network this week.

Trump is under criminal investigation by the Justice Department over classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago after his representatives allegedly told the government that he was no longer in possession of secret materials.

— Bloomberg staff writer Chris Strohm contributed to this story.