Garland Appoints Special Counsel To Investigate Biden Handling Of Classified Documents

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 18: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
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Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday that he has appointed Robert Hur, a former U.S. attorney from Maryland, as special counsel to investigate President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.

Garland laid out the timeline of events in the discovery of the documents.

The first batch of documents was discovered by Biden’s team on November 2. The office of the inspector general for the National Archives contacted a prosecutor at the Justice Department on November 4.

On November 9, the FBI commenced an assessment to determine if classified information had been mishandled “in violation of federal law.”

On November 14, Garland said that he assigned U.S. attorney John Lausch, a Trump appointee, to conduct a review to determine whether the appointment of a special counsel would be appropriate. 

On December 20, Biden’s personal counsel contacted Lausch to tell him that additional documents with classification markings had been found in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington residence. The FBI secured those documents.

On January 5, Lausch briefed Garland and told him that the appointment of a special counsel was warranted.

Garland wrapped the timeline by saying that Thursday morning, January 12, Biden’s personal counsel again called Lausch to tell him that an additional document bearing classification markings was found in Biden’s Wilmington home.

Hur, the new special counsel, was appointed by then-President Donald Trump to his U.S. attorney role, where he served from 2018 to 2021. He’d previously clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist and worked in the George W. Bush administration under then-Assistant Attorney General Chris Wray (who Trump later nominated to be director of the FBI).

“We have cooperated closely with the Justice Department throughout its review, and we will continue that cooperation with the Special Counsel,” Richard Sauber, special counsel to the President, said in a statement Thursday after the announcement. “We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake.”

Garland’s announcement came one day after the news, first reported by NBC, that an additional batch of classified documents had been found. 

Sauber said that the documents were discovered in a comprehensive search following the initial discovery of other classified documents at an office Biden used after his vice presidency. 

“Following the discovery of government documents at the Penn Biden Center in November 2022, and coordinating closely with the Department of Justice, the President’s lawyers have searched the President’s Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware residences — and other locations where files from his Vice Presidential office may have been shipped in the course of the 2017 transition,” Sauber said in a statement Thursday morning. “The lawyers completed that review last night.” 

“During the review, the lawyers discovered among personal and political papers a small number of additional Obama-Biden Administration records with classified markings,” he added. “All but one of these documents were found in storage space in the President’s Wilmington residence garage. One document consisting of one page was discovered among stored materials in an adjacent room.” 

The first “small number of classified documents,” per the White House, was found in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a Washington D.C. think tank Biden used periodically between the end of his vice presidency and his 2020 presidential bid. They were discovered when Biden’s team was preparing to vacate the office space. 

Sauber said in a statement earlier this week that Biden’s lawyers proactively contacted the National Archives when they found the documents, which came to pick them up the next morning. The White House maintains that it continues to cooperate with the Justice Department’s review. 

Biden told reporters that he was “surprised” to learn about the document discovery. 

“As I said earlier this week, people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously,” he added to reporters Thursday. “I also said we’re cooperating fully and completely with the Justice Department’s review.”

The situation has inevitably sparked comparisons to Trump’s mishandling of classified documents, which prompted an FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago residence and an ongoing government investigation. While both cases revolve around improper retention of government documents, the way the two handled the situations is starkly different and may ultimately shield Biden from legal culpability. 

While Biden’s team alerted the Archives to the discovery and handed over the documents immediately, Trump refused to cooperate with the Archives for months, delaying responding to its repeated requests. 

After being subpoenaed to produce the records, Trump’s team falsely indicated that it had fully complied. The Justice Department “developed evidence that government records were likely concealed and removed from the Storage Room and that efforts were likely taken to obstruct the government’s investigation,” after Trump had received the subpoena. 

The investigation into Trump’s handling of the documents is back on track, led by Garland-appointed Special Counsel Jack Smith, after the former President’s lawsuit, seemingly filed to stop or slow the government’s probe, was dismissed by an appellate court last month.

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