Attorney general Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to supervise the probe into how classified documents ended up in two locations linked to US president Joe Biden, including the garage of his Delaware home.
Robert Hur – a Washington DC lawyer who served as the US attorney for Maryland from 2018 to 2021 – will act as special prosecutor with the power to “investigate whether any person or entity violated the law”.
It came after the White House said a document with classified markings from Biden’s time as vice-president was found in his personal library, along with other documents found in his garage.
Mr Garland said Biden’s lawyers informed the justice department of the discovery on Thursday morning. On Monday, it was revealed sensitive documents were found at the office of his former institute in Washington.
Mr Garland said the justice department could handle the matter “with integrity” but that regulations “require the appointment of a special counsel for this matter” because of the “extraordinary circumstances” it poses.
He added that the Illinois-based, Trump-appointed prosecutor who has been handling the case thus far, John Lausch, has indicated he is unable to continue supervising because he plans to leave government service this year, and said he is “grateful” to Mr Lausch and his team for conducting the investigation so far “with professionalism and speed”.
It comes after Mr Biden’s legal team discovered “a small number of additional Obama-Biden administration records with classified markings” in what was described as “storage space in the president’s Wilmington residence garage”, along with a single one-page document found “among stored materials in an adjacent room”.
Those documents were discovered while Mr Biden’s attorneys were conducting a search of his homes in Wilmington, Delaware and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in the wake of the discovery of roughly a dozen Obama-era records, some bearing classification markings, in an office periodically used by Mr Biden during his time out of government service.
Special counsel to the president, Richard Sauber, said the president’s homes were searched on Wednesday because they were “the other locations where files from his vice-presidential office might have been shipped in the course of the 2017 transition”.
In a statement, Mr Sauber said the White House is “confident” that the justice department probe will find the documents at issue were “inadvertently misplaced”, and show Mr Biden and his legal team “acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake”.
“We have cooperated closely with the justice department throughout its review, and we will continue that cooperation with the special counsel,” he added.
Mr Hur is a veteran federal prosecutor who served as an assistant US attorney in Maryland from 2007 to 2014, as well as a stint as special assistant to FBI director Christopher Wray during his time running the justice department’s criminal division.
In a statement, he said he would conduct his investigation “swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favour”.