APTOS, Calif. (AP) – Frustrated President Joe Biden said Thursday that “there’s not there” when asked persistently about discovering classified documents and official records in his home and former office.
“We found that a number of documents were filed in the wrong place,” Biden told reporters who questioned him during a visit to storm damage in California. “We immediately turned them over to the Archives and the Department of Justice.”
Biden said he was “fully cooperating and looking forward to resolving this quickly.”
“I think you’ll find there’s nothing there,” he said. “There’s no there there.”
The White House revealed that Biden’s lawyers have found confidential documents and official records on four occasions in recent months — on Nov. 2 at the Penn Biden Center offices in Washington, and then in follow-up searches on Dec. 20 in the garage of the president’s Wilmington home, Delaware, and January 11 and 12 at the President’s Library.
The discovery complicates a federal investigation into former President Donald Trump, who, according to the Justice Department, took hundreds of records marked as classified with him as he left the White House in early 2021 and withstood months of requests to return them to the government.
The two cases are different — Biden, for example, voluntarily turned over the documents found. But the issue is troubling the president and his aides, who have repeatedly said they acted quickly and appropriately when the documents were discovered and are working to be as transparent as possible, although key questions remain unanswered.
Attorney General Merrick Garland last week it named Robert Hur, a former Maryland attorney, to serve as a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the documents. Garland said the extraordinary circumstances warranted special counsel, and he also made the decision in part to show the “Department of Justice’s commitment to independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters”.
Hur is replacing federal prosecutor John Lausch, who was initially asked to review the documents and whose team has already interviewed former Biden aides responsible for packing boxes during his tenure as vice president. Those interviews include Kathy Chung, who served as an administrative assistant during that time, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Biden expressed frustration that the subject of the documents was coming up as he surveyed the damage caused by the coastal storm, telling reporters that “it bothers me” that he is being questioned about handling classified material, even though “we have a serious problem here” in California.
“Why don’t you ask me about it?” he pressed.
Biden’s team faced criticism for its piecemeal disclosures – the public was not notified of the documents until early January, and after that, additional findings slowly leaked out. It has occasionally led to heated exchanges between reporters and White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in the White House briefing room. She got into trouble when she suggested last Friday that all the documents had been recovered, only to have an additional discovery released over the weekend.
Biden said Thursday that he has “no regrets” about how and when the public learned of the documents.
“I’m following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do,” he said.
Long reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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