The disclosure that potentially classified materials were discovered in offices of think tanks formerly used by President Joe Biden raised questions about how the circumstance compares to last year’s bust. of hundreds of documents marked as classified from Mar-a-Lago, the Florida residence of former President Donald Trump.
See side by side the similarities and differences between the two situations:
HOW MANY CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?
BIDEN: “A small number of documents with classified marks” were discovered on November 2, 2022, in a locked cabinet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a think tank in Washington, while Biden’s personal lawyers were cleaning up the offices, according to Richard Sauber, special adviser to the president.
Biden maintained an office at the Penn Center after stepping down as vice president in 2017 until shortly before launching his 2020 presidential campaign. It was affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania and continued to operate independently of the Biden administration.
TRUMP: About 300 documents with classification markings – including some at the top secret level – have been recovered from Trump since he left office in January 2021.
As of January 2022, the National Archives and Records Administration has recovered 15 boxes of documents, telling Justice Department officials that they contained “a lot” of classified material. In August, FBI agents took about 33 boxes and containers of 11,000 documents from Mar-a-Lago, including about 100 with classification markings found in a warehouse and an office.
HOW FAST WERE CLASSIFIED DOCUMENTS DELIVERED?
BIDEN: His personal lawyers immediately alerted the White House attorney’s office, which notified NARA, which took custody of the documents the next day, Sauber said.
“Since this discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have been cooperating with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that all Obama-Biden administration records are properly in the Archives’ possession,” Sauber said.
TRUMP: A Trump representative told NARA in December 2021 that presidential records were found in Mar-a-Lago, nearly a year after Trump left office. Fifteen log boxes containing some classified material were transferred from Mar-Lago to NARA in January.
A few months later, Department of Justice and FBI investigators visited Mar-a-Lago to obtain more information about classified materials taken to Florida. Federal officials also served a subpoena for some documents believed to be on the property.
In August 2022, FBI agents conducting a search recovered 33 boxes of Mar-a-Lago. The search came after Trump’s lawyers provided sworn certification that all government records had been returned.
COULD ANY PRESIDENT FACE CHARGES RELATED TO THE DISCOVERY OF THE DOCUMENTS?
BIDEN: Despite the discovery of classified materials in a Biden office, there is no indication that Biden himself knew of the existence of the records before they were turned over.
Management also said the records were handed over the same day they were discovered, without any intent to conceal. This is important because the Justice Department always looks for obstinacy, or an intent to mishandle government secrets, when deciding whether to file criminal charges.
But even if the Justice Department finds the case prosecutable based on the evidence, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that a president is immune from prosecution during his term. Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller cited that guidance in deciding not to reach a conclusion on whether Trump should face charges as part of his investigation into coordination between Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia.
Attorney General Merrick Garland asked U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch — one of the few U.S. attorneys to be withheld from the Trump administration — to review the matter after Archives referred the matter to the department, according to with a person familiar with the matter, but is not authorized to discuss it publicly.
TRUMP: The former president possibly faces exposure for obstruction during the protracted battle to recover the documents. And, as he is no longer in office, he would have no protection against potential prosecutions that would apply to a sitting president.
In November, Garland appointed Jack Smith, a veteran war crimes prosecutor with experience in public corruption investigations, to lead investigations into Trump’s withholding of classified documents, as well as key aspects of a separate investigation involving the January 6, 2021 insurgency and efforts to undo the 2020 election.
WHAT DO PRESIDENTS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE DISCOVERY OF THE DOCUMENTS?
BIDEN: Responding to questions from journalists at the Summit of North American Leaders in Mexico on Tuesday, Biden said he was “surprised to learn” that the documents were found in his think tank. He said he didn’t know what was in the material, but he takes confidential documents “very seriously”.
He said his team acted appropriately, quickly delivering the documents.
“They did what they should have done,” Biden said. “They immediately called the Archives.”
In September, speaking about the situation with Trump, Biden told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that the discovery of top secret documents at Mar-a-Lago raised concerns that confidential data had been compromised and called it “irresponsible”.
TRUMP: Trump has claimed at times that he has declassified the documents he took with him – although he has provided no evidence of this. He said in an interview with Fox News in September that a president can declassify material “even thinking about it.”
The former president called the Mar-a-Lago search an “unannounced incursion” that “was not necessary or appropriate” and represented “dark times for our nation.”
Of Biden, Trump pondered Monday on his social media site, asking, “When is the FBI going to raid Joe Biden’s many homes, maybe even the White House?”
WHAT ARE THE POLITICAL IMPLICATIONS OF THE DISCOVERY OF THE DOCUMENTS?
BIDEN: While unlikely to affect the Justice Department’s decision-making regarding whether to impeach Trump in its own case, the release of the Biden document could heighten skepticism among Republicans and others who already criticize the policy as the basis for investigations of the former president.
There are also potential ramifications in a new GOP-controlled Congress, where Republicans vow to launch wide-ranging investigations into the Biden administration.
Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the American public deserved to know sooner about the disclosure of confidential Biden documents. The Ohio Republican is among House Republicans pushing for the creation of a “select subcommittee on the armament of the federal government” within the Judiciary Committee.
Representative Mike Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, requested that the US intelligence community conduct a “damage assessment” of documents found at the Penn Center.
TRUMP: Immediately afterward, Trump and his supporters seized on the Mar-a-Lago search as a partisan attack by Democrats who had long wanted to remove him from office.
During his 2024 campaign launch in November, at the same club that agents had searched months earlier, Trump referenced the investigations against him, presenting himself as “a victim” of rebellious prosecutors and the “infection, rottenness and corruption of Washington”.
Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP
Associated Press Washington writers Eric Tucker and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.
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