Classified Documents Saga Overshadows White House Push to Tout Biden Record
WASHINGTON – President Biden kicked off the new year by touting his legislative record, falling inflation and a rise in his approval ratings, while White House staff reveled in the upheaval of the Republican House speaker’s election.
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The president and his top advisers are now facing a high-profile investigation by a newly appointed special counsel, Robert Hur. House Republicans have launched their own investigations. GOP members of the Judiciary Committee on Friday asked Attorney General Merrick Garland to release documents and communications between Justice Department and FBI officials and the White House. The Justice Department confirmed receipt of the letter and declined to comment on it.
The Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee also sent a letter to the White House on Friday, saying his panel was investigating “Mr. Biden’s pattern of mishandling classified material” and asking for the documents obtained and a list of the locations that were searched. The White House declined to comment.
Even some top Democrats are calling for more information. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D., Va.) said earlier this week that he expected to be told how the classified documents found their way into Mr. Biden’s office.
President Biden said Thursday that “a small number” of classified documents from his time as vice president were found at his home and in his personal library. Attorney General Merrick Garland described the decision to appoint a special counsel to investigate. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
A harsh response from the White House has only made matters worse. The administration did not disclose when the initial disclosure occurred in November, or when other documents were leaked in December. When the news reports emerged earlier this week, White House officials on consecutive days issued terse statements of confirmation. Officials at news conferences offered little additional detail, asserting that the administration was transparent — a promise the president has repeatedly made to the public.
The revelation prompted immediate comparisons to efforts by the National Archives and the Justice Department to retrieve classified and other documents from former President Donald Trump’s Florida mansion, which escalated over more than a year to include a criminal investigation. for possible obstruction, among others. possible crimes. Mr. Trump has called the investigation a witch hunt and has denied wrongdoing.
The White House has repeatedly noted that Mr. Biden’s lawyers quickly contacted the National Archives and the Justice Department after the documents surfaced, seeking to contrast Mr. Trump’s actions. A months-long effort by the Justice Department to retrieve classified documents in Mr. Trump’s possession resulted in an August search of his property by federal agents.
Some Democrats said the disclosure of classified documents at places closely associated with Mr. Biden could dilute some of the political advantages Democrats might have sought from Mr. Trump’s travails.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner said he was waiting to be told how the classified documents found their way into Mr Biden’s office. Photo: Jim Lo Scalzo/Shutterstock
“Republicans are going to try to muddy the waters,” said Josh Schwerin, a Democratic strategist who worked on Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, adding that Democrats will now have to more carefully outline the differences between the two incidents with classified documents. “Democrats need to keep talking about how this is not the same situation as Trump and what he has done is significantly worse.”
Late last year, Mr. Trump officially declared himself the GOP presidential nominee for 2024, and Mr. Biden is expected to announce his re-election bid in the spring.
White House staffers have privately expressed their frustrations that the release of classified documents — and the resulting wall-to-wall coverage on cable news — are already distracting from what they thought was a good stretch for Mr. Biden. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the public is more focused on other issues, such as the economy, where the administration has sought an influx of funds that will come from legislation backed by Democrats to boost infrastructure and invested in clean energy.
“Our message is very clear and will continue to be exactly that,” she said at the White House on Friday.
During White House briefings this week, Ms. Jean-Pierre declined to give direct answers to a series of questions from reporters about the documents. Among them: Why the White House didn’t disclose the disclosure earlier, who was responsible for packaging then-Vice President Biden’s documents, whether the president would agree to an interview with the special counsel and how the documents found their way to Mr. . Biden’s home and office.
She repeatedly referred reporters’ questions to the Justice Department and the White House counsel’s office, which provided little additional information beyond their own public statements.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the public is more focused on issues such as the economy. Photo: JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS
“We are not avoiding anything here,” Ms Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday. “We’ve talked when it’s appropriate.” She said the White House is being cautious about the information it releases about the incident in light of the Justice Department’s investigation.
“It’s certainly going to be a distraction — some people are going to see blood in the water,” said Rodell Mollineau, a Democratic strategist who has served as an adviser to Mr. Biden’s outside political groups. He added that once the initial frenzy over the disclosure wears off, voters’ concerns about the economy and other issues could take center stage again. “I think that will probably be a sideshow.”
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Mr. Garland gave the most detailed deadline for the disclosure of the documents when he appointed the special counsel on Thursday. Naming Mr. Hur, a former US attorney during the Trump administration, the Justice Department confirmed that aides found classified documents at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, the president’s Washington-based institute, on November 2. and submitted them to the National Archives.
Five weeks later, on Dec. 20, Mr. Biden’s lawyers told the department that additional classified documents dating from Mr. Biden’s time in the Obama administration had been discovered in the garage of Mr. Biden’s home in Wilmington, Del., which which prompted the FBI to go there and get them.
And on Thursday morning, Mr. Biden’s lawyer told officials that an additional document bearing classified markings had been identified at the president’s home in Wilmington. The White House has declined to provide details on the room where the additional document was found.
— Sadie Gurman contributed to this article.
Write Tarini Parti at tarin[email protected] and Andrew Restuccia at [email protected]
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