POLITICS + GOVERNMENT

Garland appoints special counsel for Biden documents investigation

Jan 12, 2023, 11:31 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2023, 5:44 pm

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to take over the investigation int...

FILE: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland in Washington Aug. 2, 2022. (REUTERS, Evelyn Hockstein/ Pool.)

(REUTERS, Evelyn Hockstein/ Pool.)

Originally Published: 12 JAN 23 10:26 ET
Updated: 12 JAN 23 13:18 ET

 (CNN) — Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to take over the investigation into President Joe Biden’s potential mishandling of classified documents.

The special counsel is Robert Hur.

The appointment is a major moment for Biden, who has mostly been able to steer clear of legal problems during his time in the White House. The special counsel investigation, along with the aggressive new Republican-led House of Representatives, means Biden may be on the defensive for the next two years.

The appointment comes hours after the White House counsel’s office said in a statement that Biden’s aides located documents with classified markings at two locations inside his home in Wilmington, Delaware.

The documents were located in a storage area in Biden’s garage and an adjacent room, the statement reads. Biden frequently spends weekends at the home, located in a wealthy, wooded enclave on a lake.

Speaking Thursday, Biden said the documents were in a “locked garage” and that he was cooperating fully with the Department of Justice.

“It’s not like they’re sitting out on the street,” he insisted when a reported asked why he was storing classified material next to a sports car.

The president said he was going “to get a chance to speak on all of this, God willing, soon.”

The documents were located following a search of the president’s homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. No classified documents were located in the Rehoboth property, the statement said. The documents were found “among personal and political papers.”

Lawyers for Biden concluded their review of the Delaware homes on Wednesday evening.

“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,” the statement reads.

A person familiar with the situation said after the statement was released that in the case of the classified documents initially discovered at the Penn-Biden Center, Biden lawyers first notified the National Archives — not the Justice Department — which then in turn notified the Justice Department.

Biden’s lawyers followed “proper protocol” by first notifying the Archives with the first batch of classified documents, the person said, but because the Justice Department subsequently got involved and the president’s lawyers were then in touch with them, in the second instance, the lawyers informed the Justice Department.

But key questions remain unanswered about the stash of classified material, including who brought them to Biden’s private homes and what specifically was contained in them.

Several people associated with Biden have been interviewed as part of the Justice Department investigation into the discovery of classified documents from his time as vice president, according to two people briefed on the matter.

The group includes former aides from Biden’s time as vice president who may have been involved in packing and closing out his records and personal items and extends to some individuals who may have had knowledge how the documents discovered on November 2 ended up inside Biden’s office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Engagement, the people said.

The names of those interviewed remain unclear. It is possible more interviews may be conducted going forward, one of the people said, though it remains a fluid process.

CNN reported Wednesday that Biden’s legal team had found another batch of classified documents in a search that began after classified documents were found at his former think tank office in Washington in early November.

The discovery of the classified documents in his former office in November set off alarm bells inside the White House, where only a small circle of advisers and lawyers were aware of the matter. An effort was launched to search other locations where documents from Biden’s time as vice president may have been stored.

CNN previously reported that the initial batch discovered when Biden’s personal attorneys were packing files at his former private office contained 10 classified documents, including US intelligence materials and briefing memos about Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom.

Some of the classified documents were “top secret,” the highest level. They were found in three or four boxes that also contained unclassified papers that fall under the Presidential Records Act, CNN has reported.

Classified records are supposed to be stored in secure locations. And under the Presidential Records Act, White House records are supposed to go to the National Archives when an administration ends.

Prior to new reports about the second batch of government materials on Wednesday, the White House refused to answer a number of critical questions about the classified documents from Biden’s time as vice president discovered inside a private office last fall, citing an ongoing Department of Justice review.

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday refused to answer a number questions about the documents, citing the Justice Department’s ongoing review of the matter. She could not say who brought the documents into the office or whether other documents were found. Nor could she say whether an audit was underway to locate other possible documents or when the president had been briefed on the discovery of the documents.

“This is under review by the Department of Justice. I’m not going to go beyond what the president shared yesterday,” Jean-Pierre said, repeating the explanation in so many words over the course of Wednesday’s press briefing. “I’m not going to go beyond what my colleagues at the White House counsel shared with all of you as well.”

This is a breaking story and will be updated.

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Garland appoints special counsel for Biden documents investigation