In September, former Vice President Joe Biden said that President Donald Trump’s treatment of classified documents was “totally irresponsible.” The discovery of documents with classified markings in a Washington, DC, office used by Biden after his time as vice president has raised new questions. The circumstances of the classified documents apparently kept by the two men appear to be so different as to defy comparison. As CNN’s Stephen Collinson notes, Biden’s lawyers potentially have access to classified documents that Trump would not have. This is not a good look for Biden’s lawyers, and he will have to answer questions about his own treatment of documents.
Biden’s lawyers turned over a few classified documents to the National Archives and Records Administration while Trump’s primary residence, Mar-a-Lago, was searched by the FBI last summer after he misled and stonewalled about the existence of boxes of documents. Both men’s treatment of classified documents is now under active investigation by lawyers from Department of Justice. The documents that Biden’s lawyers turned over were related to the Iran nuclear deal and show that the Obama administration was working closely with European allies to try and get the Iran deal passed. CNN’s Jamie Gangel reports that the documents also show that Biden was worried about the possibility of a Trump presidency and that he was trying to protect the Obama legacy. Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, released a statement saying that the FBI is investigating whether or not Trump lied to the public about the existence of the documents.
Where were the documents found?
The Biden Collection of Diplomatic Records, consisting of over 200,000 pages of documents, was discovered in a locked closet in the office of the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. The Biden Center is the University of Pennsylvania’s home in Washington, DC, and it opened with a ribbon cutting in 2018 in a building across Constitution Avenue from the US Senate, where Biden spent much of his career. Biden was an honorary professor at the University of Pennsylvania from 2017 to 2019.
When were the documents found?
The documents were found by Biden’s attorneys in early November – a week before the midterm elections.
Who found the documents?
Attorneys for the president found the documents as they were closing down the office he used in Washington, DC. This is different from the situation with President Trump where the National Archives spent more than a year pursuing documents from his time as president and pursued legal avenues all the way up to the Supreme Court.
What’s the nature of the documents that were found?
The documents were found by a private search firm and Sauber has confirmed that they appear to be from the Obama-Biden administration. In contrast, Trump has refused to turn over hundreds of documents that are marked either secret or top secret. Gangel and Cohen reported that according to one source, the Biden documents covered topics including Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom.
What is Biden saying?
I was surprised to learn there were any government records that were taken there to that office, Biden said in response to a reporter’s question at a news conference in Mexico City, where he was attending a trilateral summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada. He emphasized that he does not know what is in the documents that were found in the office. Neither Biden nor his White House legal team reviewed them before they were given to the National Archives. The president said his attorneys “did what they should have done” by immediately calling the Archives. “People know I take classified documents, classified information seriously,” Biden added, saying that the documents were found in “a box, locked cabinet – or at least a closet.”