House Republicans for months have promised to open investigation after investigation into the Biden administration. Now they have cause for another: the revelation that the president’s attorneys discovered three batches of stray Obama-era classified documents at Biden’s home and an affiliated office.
Republicans are now raising questions about how the administration has handled its investigation into the mishandling of the documents, especially since news of the documents broke this week despite the administration knowing about the first discovery before the midterm elections in November. GOP lawmakers also want to know whether the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) was politically biased in withholding information from the public.
“They knew this happened to President Biden before the election, but they kept it secret from the American public,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters Thursday.
Republican criticisms coincide with the U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s decision Thursday to name Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the documents’ handling. Hurd, the former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland, will have authority to investigate and prosecute anyone who broke the law in connection with the handling, discovery, and turnover of the documents, which date back to Joe Biden’s time as vice president under Barack Obama. One trove was found in the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a think tank where Biden kept an office when he served as honorary professor at the University of Pennsylvania from 2017 to 2019. The others were found in Biden’s Delaware home.
After CBS News first reported the documents’ existence on Monday, Biden’s personal attorney said White House counsel had found the first set of documents in the Penn Biden Center on November 2, which he personally notified NARA of the same day. Lawyers turned over the documents to NARA the following day, according to Garland.
The National Archives notified the Justice Department about the first set of documents on November 4, Garland said Thursday. On November 9 the Justice Department began investigating the matter, and on November 14, Garland appointed John Lausch—U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois—to begin reviewing the documents as he mulled whether to appoint a special counsel. The investigation escalated when Biden’s personal attorney notified Lausch about a second batch of documents on December 20 in Biden’s garage, later retrieved by the FBI. Then Garland’s statement Thursday included the revelation of another document found in another room in Biden’s home.
Hours before Garland’s special counsel appointment on Thursday, House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer told reporters he plans to hold hearings and ramp up investigations over the documents.
“When CBS broke that story, the Biden administration reacted to it,” Comer said Thursday. “They never said they had another set of documents at the president’s personal home in Delaware. Why didn’t they say that yesterday? How many more documents are out there?”
Comer also raised concerns about NARA’s failure to immediately inform the Oversight Committee of the documents’ discovery on November 2. “When that first batch of documents was supposedly turned over to the National Archives—they should have had a briefing with then-Chairwoman [Carolyn] Maloney and myself to update us,” Comer said. “They never did, never said a word. We would not know about that first set of documents were it not for investigative reporting.”
He requested all relevant documents and communication between NARA, the White House, Biden’s attorney’s, and the Justice department relating to the classified documents to determine whether the aforementioned parties mishandled the matter.
He also highlighted public records that show Chinese donors poured millions in recent years into the University of Pennsylvania, the Ivy League school associated with the Penn Biden Center where the first batch of documents was discovered. The New York Post reported on Wednesday that the university received $30 million from Chinese donors shortly after the school announced the creation of the Penn Biden Center.
Federal officials have raised concerns in recent years about the Chinese government’s influence over American universities. Republicans will likely zero in on the fact that the Penn Biden Center has declined to disclose its donors since its official opening in February 2018. (A spokesman for the University of Pennsylvania said the think tank the Post earlier this week that it “has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity.”)
Biden, who said Tuesday that he was “surprised” classified documents were found at his think tank, has criticized his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, after the FBI raided Trump’s Palm Beach home to retrieve a trove of classified documents. Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith in November to investigate whether there was any mishandling of classified documents in Mar-a-Lago.
As Republicans pledge investigations into the administration’s handling of Biden’s documents, the comparisons to Trump’s case will be sure to come. “This is on open display for the entire American public to see that there is apparently a dual system of justice,” House Republicans’ vice policy chairman and Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson said Thursday before Garland announced the new special counsel. “The DOJ brings the full weight of the justice system against President Trump but not for this infraction. So it’s a great concern to us.”
Correction Jan. 13: This article originally stated Biden’s aides found the documents. His lawyers found the documents.