Special counsel named to investigate Biden classified documents

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday he was appointing Robert Hur to serve as a special counsel to review classified material found in President Joe Biden’s Delaware residence and a Washington office he used.

Hur, now a lawyer at a Washington, D.C. firm, was the U.S. Attorney for Maryland during the Trump administration, and is also the former principal counselor to former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the Mueller investigation.

Garland said Hur’s appointment “authorizes him to investigate whether any person or entity violated the law in connection with this matter.” 

Garland said the move was necessary because of the “extraordinary circumstances” involved. “I am confident Mr. Hur will carry out his responsibilities in an even-handed and urgent manner,” he said.

The White House acknowledged on Thursday that classified Obama administration documents were found in one of Biden’s Delaware homes. This came after confirming Monday that documents had been found in a Washington office.

Garland said DOJ was told about the documents in Biden’s home on Dec. 20th. Biden’s lawyer informed DOJ Thursday morning that one other document had been found in the home, the AG said.

Garland had previously asked John R. Lausch, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and a holdover appointed by former President Donald Trump, to review how classified material ended up in a locked closet in a Washington, D.C. office that had been used Biden after he left office in 2017, a source familiar with the matter told NBC News earlier this week.

Garland said Lausch briefed him on his findings on Jan. 5, and “advised me that further investigation by a special counsel was warranted.” Garland said he agreed but did not elaborate further.

Multiple aides who worked for Biden in the final days of the Obama administration have already been interviewed by federal law enforcement officials, two people familiar with the matter told NBC Thursday.

In a statement released Thursday, Richard Sauber, a counsel to Biden, said the additional documents were found during a search of Biden’s two Delaware homes. He did not say how many there were or what level of classification. 

No documents were found in Biden’s Rehoboth Beach residence.

In brief remarks to reporters, the president said the documents were found in “storage areas and file cabinets in my home, in my personal library.”

Asked why he’d had classified documents next to his Corvette in his garage, Biden said, “My Corvette’s in a locked garage. It’s not like they’re sitting out on a street.” 

He then added that “people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously.”

Sauber said the Department of Justice was “immediately notified” about the find, and Biden’s lawyers arranged for DOJ to take possession of the documents.

The White House says the search was completed Wednesday night.

It’s unclear why Biden’s homes were just being searched now. Sauber acknowledged earlier this week — following a CBS News report — that some classified documents had been found on Nov. 2 in a Washington office that had been used by Biden.

Sauber’s statement came a day after NBC News first reported aides to the president had discovered at least one additional batch of classified documents in a location separate from the Washington office he used after leaving the Obama administration.

On Thursday, Sauber said the president’s lawyers have now completed searches of “locations where files from his Vice-Presidential office might have been shipped in the course of the 2017 transition.” 

Sauber said the White House “will continue to cooperate” with the DOJ review.

Sauber’s statement Thursday gave a slightly different account of what happened following the initial discovery of classified material in a locked closet in Biden’s office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington.

In his statement Monday, Sauber said, “On the day of this discovery, November 2, 2022, the White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives. The Archives took possession of the materials the following morning.” In the statement Thursday, Sauber said, “As was done in the case of the Penn-Biden Center, the Department of Justice was immediately notified, and the lawyers arranged for the Department of Justice to take possession of these documents.”

Garland said Thursday that Archives had notified DOJ about the documents on Nov. 4. He said the FBI commenced an assessment on Nov. 9 “to understand whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of federal law.”

He said he assigned Lausch “to conduct an initial investigation to inform my decision whether or not to appoint a special counsel” five days later.

Prior to Garland’s announcement, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called the finds “another faux pas by the Biden administration” and told reporters “I think Congress has to investigate this.”

The new chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, mocked the latest revelations. “We’re talking about classified documents. It’s obviously serious, but you almost start laughing when you find out they’re in the garage,” Jordan said.

He said he has “a ton of questions” about the timing of the searches, and why a lawyer was involved in the Washington, D.C. move in the first place. Jordan also accused DOJ of a “double standard” in its handling of Biden’s case versus its probe into documents with classification markings that former President Donald Trump held onto.

There are some major differences to date between the two cases, including that Trump had held onto documents even after he was served a subpoena for their return, and that his lawyers had erroneously certified that they’d all been given back.

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said while there are “enormous differences” between the Biden and Trump matters, “whenever classified documents are in a place that they shouldn’t be, it’s a concern for those of us on the Intelligence Committee.” He called for a briefing on the incidents to the committee.

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