WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday appointed a special counsel to investigate the presence of classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home and office in Washington.
The announcement followed Biden’s confirmation Thursday morning that a document with secret markings from his vice presidency was found in his personal library, along with other documents found in his garage. Garland said Biden’s lawyers notified the Justice Department Thursday morning of the discovery of the classified document at Biden’s home after FBI agents first obtained additional documents from his garage in December. On Monday, it was revealed that sensitive documents had been found in the office of his former institute in Washington.
The investigation will be led by Robert Hur, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Maryland, who will take over from Chicago-based DOJ’s top prosecutor John Lausch, who was previously assigned by the department to investigate the matter and who recommended Garland last week that a special counsel be appointed. Hur is about to start his work.
“The extraordinary circumstances here warrant the appointment of a special counsel for this matter,” Garland said, adding that Hur is authorized to investigate whether any person or entity has violated the law.
“This appointment underscores to the public the department’s commitment to independence and accountability in matters of particular sensitivity and to making decisions that are unquestionably guided only by the facts and the law,” Garland said.
The appointment of another special counsel to investigate the handling of classified documents is a remarkable turn of events, both legally and politically, for the Justice Department, which has spent months investigating Donald Trump’s handling of more than 300 classified documents found at the address. former president’s residence in Florida.
While the situations are factually and legally different, the disclosure of classified documents at two separate sites linked to Biden — as well as the appointment of a new special counsel — would almost certainly complicate any prosecution the department might pursue against Trump.
Biden told reporters at the White House that he is “fully and completely cooperating” with the Justice Department’s investigation into how classified information and government records were kept. He did not say when the latest batch of documents was found, only that his lawyers’ review of potential storage sites was completed Wednesday evening. Lawyers found the first in a locked cabinet at the Biden Penn Center offices in Washington on Nov. 2, just before the midterm elections, but did not disclose the development until Monday.
Richard Sauberspecial counsel to the president, said that after Biden’s personal lawyers found the original documents, they investigated other places where the records may have been sent after Biden left the vice presidency in 2017.
Sauber said a “small number” with secret markings was found in a storage area in Biden’s garage in Wilmington, with one document located in an adjoining room. Biden later revealed that another location was his personal library.
Biden said the Justice Department was “immediately notified” after the documents were found and that the department’s lawyers took possession of the records. The first batch of documents was handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
Hur was a close ally of former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a key figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and contacts between associates of then-candidate Trump and Russian officials. He also worked as an advisor to FBI Director Christopher Wray at the Department of Justice.
New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, said of the latest news: “I think Congress needs to investigate.”
“Here’s a person who sat on ’60 Minutes’ who was so concerned about President Trump’s documents being locked up in the back, and now we’re finding out it’s the vice president who’s been keeping them out in different places for years.”
Contradicting several Republican colleagues, he said, “We don’t think there’s a need for a special prosecutor.”
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee asked intelligence agencies to conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents. Ohio Rep. Mike Turner also asked Attorney General Merrick Garland and Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines on Thursday for briefings on their assessment by Jan. 26.
“The presence of classified information in these separate locations could implicate the president in the mishandling, potential misuse, and disclosure of classified information,” Turner wrote to officials.
The revelation that Biden’s team uncovered more classified documents came hours after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dodged questions about Biden’s handling of classified information and the West Wing’s handling of the discovery.
She said Wednesday that the White House was committed to handling the matter “the right way,” pointing to Biden’s personal attorneys’ immediate notification to the National Archives.
But she declined to say when Biden himself was informed if there were other classified documents potentially in other unauthorized locations, and why the White House waited more than two months to disclose the discovery of the first batch of documents.
Biden said he was “surprised to learn that there were any government records that were transferred to that office,” but his lawyers “did what they were supposed to do” by immediately calling the National Archives.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.