Document discovery spotlights Biden’s frequent use of Wilmington home
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WILMINGTON, Del. – President Biden had completed a routine weekend visit to his home here in December, one that included pre-Christmas work at a local mall, a stop at his nearby golf club and an evening Mass at a church where he five minutes from his house. But the day after he left and returned to Washington, his lawyers notified the Justice Department of some disturbing news: Inside the garage, they had found a stack of classified documents dating back to Biden’s time as vice president.
The revelation has caused a political uproar and prompted Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special counsel. But beyond that, it has drawn attention to what has become a de facto extension of the White House, a place where Biden goes most weekends in an effort to maintain the routine he has maintained throughout his political career.
It was a dream house that he and his wife built. It has been a cozy retreat where he spent months in Covid quarantine and ran a winning campaign. It has been the scene of family celebrations and family quarrels.
And now, it’s the scene of a special prosecutor’s investigation.
Biden often travels with a National Security Council aide, and accommodations have been made at the property so he can handle classified material and make secure phone calls. Ironically, those security quarters — where he as president is allowed to deal with classified matters — are on the same property as the garage that held classified material he was not authorized to have.
Garland appoints special counsel
The two-car garage is where he keeps his prized open-top 1967 Stingray Corvette, a gift from his father for his first marriage with the engine rebuilt by his sons for Christmas. In a video released by his campaign in August 2020, Biden is seen backing up the car in the garage, where a jumbled pile of materials appears to include a cardboard box and a lampshade.
Asked this week why sensitive materials were found in the same area where he keeps his car, Biden replied: “By the way, my Corvette is in a locked garage, OK, so it’s not like it’s sitting on the street. As I said earlier this week, people know that I take classified documents and classified material seriously.”
The idea of going home on weekends, even evenings, is closely tied to Biden’s political identity. He started the practice when he first came to Washington — becoming a senator in 1973 shortly after his wife and daughter died in a car accident — when he took the train home each night to Delaware to be with his sons. him as they recovered.
Biden has largely maintained this approach as president, using the White House as perhaps the most high-profile version of a corporate haven. He travels home most weekends, easing into a predictable routine of golf, family dinners and church.
When he was home in December, he walked into a local Jos bank. A. for the second time in a few months. He made a brief stop at Fieldstone Golf Club and attended mass on Saturday evening before returning to his home. As his family that weekend marked the 50th anniversary of the crash that killed his wife and daughter, he was joined by nearly everyone in his immediate family, including his son Hunter, daughter Ashley and a dozen grandchildren.
Biden left Wilmington that Monday, and the next day, Dec. 20, is when Biden’s lawyers informed the Justice Department that additional documents had been found in the garage, according to Garland. This prompted the FBI to go to the home and secure the documents.
Biden was also home last weekend. On Wednesday, his lawyers said they had discovered another classified document in a room adjacent to the garage.
“Certainly the president has facilitated access to his residence for his personal lawyers so that they can conduct checks to ensure that any records are properly in the government’s possession,” the White House spokesman said. , Ian Sams.
Timeline of Biden documents
The White House on Friday did not respond to questions about whether the documents found in Biden’s home were left there when he was vice president, or were simply stored at his home after he left office. Biden himself was not involved in the disclosure of the documents, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive subject.
During his time as vice president, Biden also had a secure facility in his home that allowed him to handle classified information. That facility was decommissioned when he left office.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, sent a letter Friday to the White House expressing concern that Hunter Biden, the president’s son, may have had access to the garage at one time when he was engaged. in foreign business relations, and he asked for information about the documents. The Judicial Committee of the House of Representatives, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), is also launching an investigation and sent a letter to Garland on Friday saying he is reviewing the Justice Department’s actions as it investigates its handling of classified documents.
Most presidents return to their former homes in some way during their time in office. George W. Bush often spent time in Crawford, Texas, Ronald Reagan visited his ranch in California, and Donald Trump traveled to his estates in New Jersey and Florida. John F. Kennedy rarely spent weekends at the White House, often traveling to Palm Beach, Fla., Hyannis Port, Mass., or the Virginia countryside.
But for Biden, home is closer to Washington, and he is unusual among presidents in going there so often — in some cases, for just a single night.
“In the modern era, presidents have spent a significant amount of time away from the White House,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “What I think is remarkable about how he spends his time is how he focuses his time on a getaway not at the White House.”
“There is no real time for a president. The presidency moves with the president”, added Naftali. “It doesn’t matter where they are. With the advent of secure videoconferencing, presidents can meet with their national security team virtually anywhere.”
Biden has said he never wanted to live in the White House and has spoken fondly of his time at the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s relatively secluded residence. He doesn’t like the closed-off feel of the White House, the idea that security guards might prevent him from fixing his breakfast or walking around in his bathrobe.
“Living in the White House, as you’ve heard other presidents who have been extremely pleased to live there, there’s — it’s a little bit like a gilded cage in terms of being able to walk out and do things,” Biden said on a CNN. city hall a month into his presidency.
Two years into his term, Biden has spent all or part of 194 days either in Wilmington or at his vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Biden’s presidency has transformed Wilmington’s leafy Greenville neighborhood, bringing security officers, barricades and armored vehicles plying the once quiet streets. Still, it’s not hard to feel distance from the hustle and bustle of Washington as you walk the lush streets that lead to a home filled with light and family photos.
Biden has long had an obsession with real estate. Earlier in his life, he had considered becoming an architect, and when he got married for the first time, he couldn’t wait to find a place to start a family.
“I had been thinking a lot about houses already,” he wrote in his 2008 memoir Promises to Keep. “My idea of Saturday fun was to jump in the Corvette with Neilia and drive around the Wilmington area looking for open houses, houses for sale, land we could build on.”
“Even as a kid in high school I was drawn to real estate,” he added, looking for a neighborhood with towering elms and oaks, manicured lawns and interesting houses.
He spent his early money moving into bigger and grander houses and upgrading the furniture, and he spent his weekends upgrading. Soon his personal homes became his political war rooms. For years, his advisers gathered at a Biden home they called “The Station.”
In 1996, the Bidens sold The Station and bought 4.2 acres of lakefront property for $350,000. That’s where they built their current colonial-style home with a gable roof and hardwood floors, three bedrooms and four full bathrooms, according to local property records.
The Biden family later added a two-story cottage to the property where Biden’s mother lived. After she died in 2010, Biden gave the space to the Secret Service, earning about $172,000 over about six years, according to Secret Service purchase orders.
Property makes sense to Biden, and when he talked openly about taking out a second mortgage to help his son Beau’s family with finances, then-President Barack Obama firmly objected.
“I’ll give you the money,” Obama said, according to Biden’s 2017 book “Promise Me, Dad.” “I have. You can take me back whenever.”
The house has been the scene of important meetings, such as the one where his grandchildren asked him to run for president. It has been the scene of trauma and angry confrontation, for example when Hunter stormed out after his family organized an intervention to try to curb his drug addiction, as Hunter himself has confessed.
When Biden’s life, like most of America’s, changed during the spring of 2020, he retreated to his home in Wilmington. He and his wife would walk down the street next door. His grandchildren would come over and Biden would throw them ice cream bars off the porch. Geese could sometimes be heard squawking in the background during Zoom events.
After a long week — one packed with new revelations about classified documents — Biden on Friday boarded Marine One, joined by one of his closest aides and longest-serving advisers, Steve Ricchetti, who was also his chief of staff at the end of the vice president. About 50 minutes later, they arrived in Wilmington, where Biden is spending most of the weekend.
Carol Leonnig, Tyler Pager and Shane Harris contributed to this report.