When news broke this week that classified documents were discovered in president Joe Biden’s former office, dating from his time as vice president in the Obama administration, it seemed as though Republicans were given a late Christmas present.
They had, after all, spent months on the defensive on behalf of Donald Trump, who was found with hundreds of classified documents of his own from his time as president.
But the new House Republican majority is split on how to respond to the issue after Mr Biden’s personal lawyers announced they had discovered more classified documents in the garage of his home in Delaware.
The question that divides them is this: Do they use their majority powers to launch their own investigation into Mr Biden in the House, or do they allow a special counsel to do the job for them, as was the case for Mr Trump’s own document scandal?
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Thursday that he would appoint special counsel Robert Hur to lead the probe into how the documents landed in two locations linked to the president.
That is something House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan told reporters he supported, before the announcement, because Mr Garland had already nominated special counsel Jack Smith to handle multiple pending investigations into Mr Trump.
“We need consistency. We need equal application of the law,” he said on Thursday. “Special Counsel was named for President Trump. So, you know, if that's the basis then it seems like there should be.”
Representative Scott Perry, chairman of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, also appeared to suggest that Mr Biden should face a special counsel investigation as Mr Trump did.
“Regardless of what the House should do, the Department of Justice should dispatch and then deploy justice equally among all Americans, not unequally,” Mr Perry told The Independent.
But many of their colleagues disagree.
House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy said Thursday that “Congress has to investigate” Mr Biden’s handling of the documents.
“I do not think that any American believes that justice should not be equal to all,” Mr McCarthy said. “And we found from this administration, what happened before every single election, whatever comes out that they utilize to try to falsify it. They try to have different standards for their own beliefs.”
House Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer told reporters he, too, would rather have Congress investigate.
“I’m not a fan of special counsels because I’ve never realized a special counsel that really accomplished what they were supposed to do,” he told The Independent. “But the fact that they called for special counsel for Trump’s handling of classified documents, I don’t see how they can not appoint a special counsel with respect to Biden.”
Mr Comer’s words came before Mr Garland announced the special counsel.
“Two things. I don’t have confidence in who Merrick Garland would appoint first special counsel and second when that special counsel is appointed, it limits our ability to do some of the oversight investigations that we want to do with respect to this.”
House Republican Conference chairwoman Elise Stefanik of New York told Fox News: “House Republicans will hold Biden’s corrupt FBI and DOJ accountable for its double standard of justice and uncover the truth about why Biden has been allowed to be so irresponsible with classified documents for so long.”
Mr Biden’s special counsel Richard Sauber announced on Thursday that the president’s attorneys conducted a search of his two residences in Delaware, one in Wilmington and another in Rehoboth Beach. The search came after a 2 November discovery of records from his days as Barack Obama’s vice president at the Penn Biden Center, a think tank at the University of Pennsylvania.
“The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the Archives. Since that discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives.”
Republicans have sought to draw an equivalency between Mr Biden’s storage of documents and the FBI executing a search warrant at Mr Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Florida for documents.
Mr McCarthy contrasted the treatment of Mr Trump with Mr Biden during his weekly press conference, saying Mr Biden and his press secretary won’t answer questions.
“You watched them leak photos of sitting out files of President Trump,” he said. “Where’s the photos of President Biden’s documents? Where are those photos? He knowingly knew this happen going into an election, going into interviews.”
Mr McCarthy’s critiques came despite the fact that it said the White House is “cooperating” with both the Justice Department and the National Archives “regarding the discovery of what appear to be Obama-Biden Administration records, including a small number of documents with classified markings”.