President Joe Biden addressed the question of classified documents found in a closet in his private office at the Penn Biden Center for the first time Tuesday. The president said he was fully cooperating with the Justice Department review and was surprised to learn they were there.
Biden began his response to scores of reporter questions by saying, “Let me get rid of the easy one first. People know I take classified documents and classified information seriously.”
At the North American Leaders Summit in Mexico City, Biden said his personal attorneys had discovered the classified documents as they cleared the office.
“They did exactly what they should have done. They immediately called the [National Archives] … turned them over to the Archives, and I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there were any government records that were taken there to that office,” added the president. “But I don’t know what’s in the documents. My lawyers have not suggested I ask what documents they were.”
The documents were from the president’s time as vice president, serving under former President Barack Obama. The discovery was made on November 2 at the Penn Biden Center, according to the special counsel to the White House, Richard Sauber. The president used the Penn Biden Center think tank as a private office from mid-2017 until the beginning of the 2020 campaign.
“The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the archives,” said Sauber in a statement issued Monday.
“Since that discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in the process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives,” said Sauber.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed John Lausch, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and a Trump appointee to review the matter. The president said Tuesday that he hopes the investigation will wrap up soon.
Republicans react to discovery of records
Republicans reacted immediately after the existence of the documents was made public. Republican Senator Tom Cotton said, “there can’t be separate standards for Republicans and Democrats.”
“The same rules must apply to everyone,” tweeted Cotton.
The president was critical after FBI agents seized around 300 documents from former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida in August.
“How that could possibly happen? How anyone could be that irresponsible? And I thought, what data was in there that would maybe compromise sources and methods?” Biden told 60 Minutes in September. “And it just … totally irresponsible.”
Meanwhile, Democrats downplayed the discovery of the documents, saying there is no comparison to how Trump handled classified information.
“This is not Mar-a-Lago,” said Democrat Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. “This is not the refusal of hundreds and hundreds of documents. There is no comparison. They were in a locked closet. They were not accessible. And that’s why the appropriate process was followed. … I don’t think it compares at all.”