WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday named a special counsel to investigate the presence of classified documents found at President Joe Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and in an unsecured Washington office from his time as vice president.
Robert Hur, a former US attorney appointed by former President Donald Trump, will lead the investigation and plans to start his work soon. His appointment marks the second time in as many months that Garland has appointed a special counsel, an extraordinary move that reflects the Department of Justice’s efforts to independently conduct high-level investigations in an extremely heated political environment.
Both investigations, the former involving Trump and documents recovered from his Mar-a-Lago, Florida, estate, concern the handling of classified information, although there are notable differences between these cases.
Garland’s decision ends a tumultuous week at the White House, where Biden and his team opened the year hoping to celebrate stronger economic news before launching a long-awaited re-election campaign. But the administration faced a new challenge on Monday when it acknowledged that confidential documents had been found in Biden’s former institute office in Washington. The situation escalated on Thursday morning, when Biden’s attorney said an additional confidential document was found in a bedroom of his Wilmington home – later revealed by Biden to be his personal library – along with other confidential documents in his garage.
The attorney general revealed that Biden’s lawyers briefed the Justice Department on the latest discovery at the president’s home on Thursday morning after FBI agents retrieved the documents from the garage in December.
Biden told reporters at the White House that he was “fully and fully cooperating” with the Justice Department investigation into how classified information and government records were stored.
“We have cooperated closely with the Department of Justice throughout its review and will continue that cooperation with the special counsel,” said Richard Sauber, counsel for the president. “We are confident that a full review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the president and his attorneys acted promptly upon discovering this error.”
Garland said the “extraordinary circumstances” of the matter necessitated Hur’s appointment, adding that the special prosecutor is authorized to investigate whether any person or entity has violated the law. Federal law requires strict procedures for handling classified information, and official records from Biden’s time as vice president are considered government property under the Presidential Records Act.
“This appointment underscores to the public the department’s commitment to independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters and to decision-making unquestionably guided only by the facts and the law,” said Garland.
Hur, in a statement, said: “I will conduct the designated investigation with fair, impartial and dispassionate judgement. I intend to follow the facts quickly and thoroughly, without fear or favor and I will honor the trust placed in me to carry out this service.”
While Garland said the Justice Department received timely notifications from Biden’s personal attorneys after each set of classified documents was identified, the White House provided late and incomplete notification to the American public about the findings.
Biden’s personal attorneys found the first set of confidential and official documents Nov. 2 in a locked closet as they cleared his office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, where he worked after leaving the vice presidency in 2017 until launching his presidential campaign in 2019. The lawyers notified the National Archives, which retrieved the documents the next day and forwarded the case to the Ministry of Justice.
Sauber said Biden’s lawyers conducted a search of other locations where the documents could have been moved after Biden left the vice presidency, including his homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Garland said that on Dec. 20, the Justice Department was informed that confidential documents and official records were located in Biden’s Wilmington garage, near his Corvette, and that FBI agents took them into custody shortly thereafter.
A Wednesday night search revealed the most recently discovered classified document in Biden’s personal library at his home, and the Justice Department was notified on Thursday, Garland said.
The White House only confirmed the discovery of the Penn Biden Center documents in response to press inquiries on Monday and remained silent about the subsequent search of Biden’s homes and garage discovery until Thursday morning, shortly before Garland announce Hur’s appointment. Biden, when he first broached the subject on Tuesday while in Mexico City, also declined to elaborate on subsequent document discoveries.
Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre insisted that despite public omissions, the Biden administration was handling the matter correctly.
“There was transparency in doing what you were supposed to do,” she said, declining to respond to repeated questions about when Biden was told about the discovery of the documents and whether he would submit to an interview with investigators.
Pressed on whether Biden could ensure that additional classified documents would not turn up in a later search, Jean-Pierre said: “You have to assume it’s been completed, yes.”
The appointment of another special prosecutor to investigate the handling of classified documents It’s a remarkable turnaround, legally and politically, for a Justice Department that has spent months investigating Trump’s retention of more than 300 documents with classification markings found on the former president’s Florida property.
While the situations are factually and legally different, the discovery of classified documents in two separate locations linked to Biden — as well as the appointment of a new special counsel — would almost certainly complicate any proceedings the department might bring against Trump.
New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said of the latest news, “I think Congress needs to look into this.”
“Here’s an individual who was on ’60 Minutes’ who was so concerned about President Trump’s documents…
Contradicting several fellow Republicans, however, he said, “We don’t think a special prosecutor is needed.”
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has requested that intelligence agencies conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents. On Thursday, Ohio Representative Mike Turner also requested briefings from Garland and the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, on their analysis by Jan. 26.
“The presence of classified information in these separate locations could implicate the President in mishandling, potential misuse and exposure of classified information,” Turner wrote to employees.
Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.
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