Items discovered last fall in the private offices of Joe Biden while he was vice president included 10 classified documents, including U.S. intelligence memos and briefing material on topics including Ukraine, Iran and Britain, according to people familiar with the matter.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has received an initial report on the documents investigation and now faces key decisions on how to proceed, including whether to launch a full criminal investigation, a law enforcement source said.
Garland was repeatedly briefed by John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago. No additional briefings are scheduled but will be held if necessary, one source said.
The classified documents date between 2013 and 2016, according to people familiar with the matter. They were found in three or four boxes that also contained unclassified documents under the Presidential Records Act.
Sources told CNN that the vast majority of items in the office consist of Biden’s personal family documents, including materials about Beau Biden’s funeral arrangements and letters of condolence. It was not immediately clear whether the boxes containing the classified documents contained personal material.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has assigned the Chicago U.S. Attorney, who remains with the Trump administration, to investigate the matter, CNN previously reported. Garland took the action after receiving a referral from the National Archives and Records Administration.
The documents were discovered on Nov. 2, six days before the midterm elections, but were not made public until Monday due to news coverage.
A personal attorney for Biden is closing the downtown Washington office that Biden used while working at the University of Pennsylvania, sources told CNN. The lawyer saw a Manila folder marked “Private” and opened the envelope to find classified documents inside. The lawyer closed the envelope and called Nara, the source said.
After getting in touch with Nara, Biden’s team scrupulously rummaged through several boxes, many of which contained personal data, the sources said.
Biden said Tuesday that he was unaware that some classified documents had been taken to his private office after he left the vice presidency, and his lawyers immediately called the National Archives to “do what they were supposed to do.”
“I was surprised to learn that any government records were brought into that office,” Biden said in response to questions from reporters at a news conference in Mexico City, where he is attending a trilateral summit with the Canadian leader.
The documents were found “in a box, in a locked cabinet — or at least a closet,” the president said.
“People know that I take classified documents and classified information seriously,” he said.
A law enforcement source said Lausch had completed an initial investigation and provided Garland with the preliminary findings.
That means Garland must now decide how to proceed. Garland was also personally involved in some key decisions related to the Trump documents investigation, as well as the decision to send the FBI to search Mar-a-Lago.
On Trump, Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith to take over the criminal investigation into Trump’s post-2020 election campaign and an investigation into classified documents the former president brought to his Florida resort. The Biden investigation is nowhere near that stage.
Garland chose to let Rausch conduct the Biden documents investigation because he was one of the two remaining U.S. attorneys appointed by Trump and to avoid a conflict of interest because he was not a Biden appointee, the people said.
In addition to Garland, Rausch had additional briefings with other Justice Department officials.
At this time, Lausch does not anticipate additional “fact-gathering,” the source said.
In an awkward moment, Garland sat down with Biden at a diplomatic summit in Mexico on Monday as reporters wailed questions about the investigation. Both men ignore these issues.
Rausch is one of the few Trump-era holdovers not told to resign after Biden takes office in 2021, and two Democratic senators in Illinois backed the decision to keep him in part because he was dealing with Politically Sensitive Investigation into Michael Former Democratic Illinois House Speaker Madigan has been indicted on corruption charges.
The development of the discovery of classified documents in Biden’s former office has forced some politicians into a corner.
Trump responded with a barrage of social media posts satirizing Biden and publicly urging the FBI to search Biden’s offices, and even the White House, for mishandled documents.
Leading Democrats on Capitol Hill have expressed confidence in Biden’s handling of government material, even though classified records are showing up where they shouldn’t be.
Newly empowered House Republicans have pledged to expand their oversight probe to include the Biden documents issue, and some see NARA as the target of additional scrutiny.
Rep. James Comer, a Kentucky Republican who currently chairs the House Oversight Committee, quickly sent a letter to the White House counsel’s office and the National Archives, which his committee oversees.
Among the requests in the letter are: the retrieval of all documents from Biden’s private office where classified documents were discovered; a list of persons authorized to enter the office; all documents and correspondence between the White House, the Justice Department and the National Archives regarding the retrieved documents; And all documents and communications related to the handling of classified material by Biden’s personal attorneys, including the status of their security clearances.
The Kentucky Republican asked for documents and other information to be turned over no later than Jan. 24 and for NARA General Counsel Gary Stern and NARA Congressional Affairs Director John Hamilton no later than Jan. Commission staff conducted transcribed interviews.
Also on Tuesday, the new Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee asked the director of national intelligence to conduct a damage assessment of classified records found in Biden’s private office.
“Those who have access to classified information have the responsibility and duty to protect it,” said Rep. Ohio’s Mike Turner writes. “This issue requires a full and thorough review.”
Clarification: This story has been updated to specify where classified documents were found in Biden’s office.
This story has been updated with more details.