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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Sarah D. Wire

Attorney General Garland names special counsel to review classified documents found at Biden’s office, home

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday named a special counsel to investigate the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents that were discovered at President Joe Biden’s office and home.

Garland tapped the former U.S. attorney for Maryland, Robert Hur, to conduct the investigation and examine whether “any person or entity violated the law in connection with this matter.” Hur was appointed to his U.S. attorney’s position by former President Donald Trump and previously served as a principal associate deputy attorney general. He is expected to begin work in the coming days.

Hur said in a statement that he “will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial, and dispassionate judgment. I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor, and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service.”

A special counsel has more independence to conduct an investigation, but ultimately the decision on whether to prosecute is left to the attorney general. Hur’s appointment “underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability for particularly sensitive matters,” Garland said.

Documents with classification markings were found in two unsecured locations that Biden used after he served as vice president and before he became president, including at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and at his private residence in Wilmington, Delaware. The White House counsel’s office said Thursday that Biden’s Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home was also searched but that no classified documents were found.

Presidential records, which include information created by or for the vice president, must be handed off to the National Archives the day a new president is sworn in. Several presidents have left the White House with a few things that don’t belong to them and the National Archives had to retrieve them. Usually it’s treated as a misunderstanding and the items are returned without fanfare, but mishandling classified documents, which are typically tightly controlled by intelligence agencies, is a different story.

Garland said the Justice Department was first notified on Nov. 4 that classified records found in an office of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington had been handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration by the White House and the FBI began investigating Nov. 9. Garland asked Chicago U.S. Attorney John Lausch, another Trump appointee, to review the situation Nov. 14.

“That office was not authorized for storage of classified documents,” Garland said.

Garland said that on Dec. 20, Biden’s personal counsel informed Lausch that additional documents were found in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington home. The FBI secured those documents, he said.

Lausch briefed Garland on his findings Jan. 5. Garland said Thursday morning that Biden’s personal lawyer informed the Justice Department that an additional document had been found at the Wilmington property.

A senior Justice Department official said before the announcement that Lausch’s findings showed a special counsel was necessary in accordance with Justice Department regulations.

“This is not a decision he made lightly,” the official said. “The appointment of a special counsel in this matter is required.”

The move mirrors Garland’s decision to appoint special counsel Jack Smith to investigate documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida in August.

Since news of the documents became public, Republicans have demanded that Garland appoint a special counsel, saying Biden shouldn’t be treated differently from Trump. Few commented once Garland made the announcement.

House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., has also vowed to hold hearings on Biden’s handling of classified documents.

The circumstances of the classified documents held by Biden and Trump differ dramatically. Biden and his team turned the documents over to authorities, while Trump withheld hundreds of classified documents despite a subpoena instructing him to hand them over to the FBI.

The White House has largely characterized it as a mistake.

White House special counsel Richard Sauber said in a written statement that “we are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news conference Thursday that Biden “did not know the records were there. He was surprised the records were there.”

Biden told reporters Thursday that he and his staff are complying with the Justice Department‘s investigation. He noted that the Wilmington documents were in a locked garage near his Corvette.

“As I said earlier this week, people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously,” Biden said. “I also said we’re cooperating fully, complete with the Justice Department’s review. My lawyers reviewed other places where documents ... from my time as vice president were stored and they finished the review last night. They discovered a small number of documents with classified markings in storage areas and file cabinets in my home and my personal library. ... The Department of Justice was immediately notified and the lawyers arranged for the Department of Justice to take possession of the document. So you’re going to see all of this unfold, I’m confident.”

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