Notebooks that President Joe Biden wrote during his time as vice president are among the items the FBI took from one of its Delaware homes during a search there last week, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
The notebooks were seized because Biden’s writings on some of the pages relate to his official business as vice president, including details of his diplomatic engagements during the Obama administration, and may reference classified information, the person said. They said the notebooks do not have classified markings, but some of the handwritten notes inside could be considered as such due to their sensitive content.
Other pages in the notebooks, while they may not contain potentially classified information, could still be considered government property under the Presidential Records Act because they belong to official business that Biden conducted as vice president, the person familiar with the investigation said.
The notebooks include a hodgepodge of Biden’s handwritten notes on various topics, both personal and official, this person said. On some pages, Biden wrote things about his family or his life unrelated to public office, they said. On other pages they said that he recorded in writing some of his experiences or thoughts as vice president at the time.
The number of notebooks that Biden kept is large, according to the person familiar with the investigation, but he was unable to specify the number.
When asked about the notebooks, a spokesman for Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, reiterated the position the president’s legal team has taken in previous statements regarding the Justice Department investigation into Biden’s possession of classified Obama administration material. which was found in his Wilmington, Delaware, home and office in Washington, D.C. he used after leaving the vice presidency.
“As noted in the statement issued on January 14, in line with our view of the requirements of our cooperation with the DOJ in this matter, we will not comment on the accuracy of reports of this nature,” the spokesperson said.
The Justice Department declined to comment. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bauer’s spokesman on Friday declined to comment when asked if Biden was aware that the notebooks were packed in boxes that remained with him at the end of the Obama administration, if he had accessed them since leaving the vice presidency and if he thought that the notebooks were his personal property.
In a letter this week to past presidents and vice presidents, the National Archives requested that their offices search any materials in their possession that could be related to their tenure, including “to determine whether bodies of materials previously deemed to be personal in nature could contain inadvertently make presidential or vice presidential records subject to [Presidential Records Act]whether they are classified or not.
The request followed a battle between former President Donald Trump and the Archives over his possession of classified documents after leaving office, which led to the FBI obtaining a search warrant in August to recover them from his Mar- a-lake; The discovery by Biden aides in November of classified documents from his time as vice president in his private office, as well as subsequent discoveries; and former Vice President Mike Pence’s disclosure that aides found confidential documents at his Indiana home earlier this month.
The possession of documents classified by Trump and Biden is the subject of separate investigations by the special counsel. Attorney General Merrick Garland has so far not appointed a special attorney to investigate Pence’s handling of classified documents.
Biden’s possession of notebooks from his time as vice president, which include notes on official business he conducted in that capacity, raises questions about whether he properly followed procedures for preserving presidential records. It also raises questions about whether the notebooks are considered personal or official, and how other vice presidents and presidents who kept similar notebooks while in office handled theirs.
Federal law permits presidents and vice presidents to write and, upon leaving office, keep diaries and notes of a “personal” nature, as long as they have not shared the material with anyone while in office. (Former President Ronald Reagan kept a handwritten journal during his eight years in the White House, tucking them away in a dresser drawer and only his wife, Nancy, knew they were there, according to Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian who later edited and published the diaries.)
Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives, said that when it comes to notebooks containing handwritten notes on personal matters mixed with notes on government business, they would likely be considered personal property if Biden never shared them with any government. . employees during the vice presidency.
Baron said that’s true whether Biden wrote a note to himself about buying his wife a president for her birthday or wrote about meeting a foreign leader.
But if Biden shared the notebooks’ contents with staff while serving as vice president, the material would be considered official records belonging to the government, Baron said.
“Handwritten personal notes of a former president or vice president are considered presidential records only if they are shared or communicated to other White House or federal agency staff for use in government business,” said Baron. “A former president or vice president has the right to take personal notes from the White House – these are not official records that go into the legal custody of the National Archives at the end of an administration.”
On January 20, the FBI spent more than 12 hours searching Biden’s Wilmington home for possible records from his eight years as vice president, including potentially classified materials.
The next day, Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, said in a statement that federal investigators had taken more than just documents with classified marks after accessing the “notes, files, papers, binders, memorabilia, handwritten to-do lists of Biden, schedules and reminders that go back decades.
The Justice Department “took possession of materials it deemed within the scope of its investigation, including six items consisting of documents with classification markings and adjacent materials,” Bauer said in the statement. “The DOJ also took personally handwritten notes from the vice presidential years for further analysis.”
Revelations that Trump, Biden and Pence possessed classified materials after they left office prompted calls for changes to the process for when presidents and vice presidents leave.
Norman Eisen, who served as a special ethics adviser in the White House to former President Barack Obama, said he advocated a more thorough review of the president’s and vice president’s roles before they leave office, so that government documents are not packed with your other belongings.
Eisen outlined a hypothetical scenario in which an outgoing president or aide wanted to package up a medical bill that needed to be paid and was required to call the National Archives to have an employee determine whether it was a personal or government record.
On Friday, Pence apologized for having confidential documents in his possession and said he takes full responsibility for this.
Biden said he was surprised to learn that confidential documents were found in his old office in November and said “there’s nothing there” in terms of the federal investigation. The White House attorney’s office said the documents were inadvertently packed in boxes and taken after Biden left the vice presidency.
A person close to Biden said it is impossible to imagine that he himself packed his bags when leaving the vice presidency. That would have been his team’s job, this person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to speak more freely.
“He’s not putting anything in boxes,” this person said.
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