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GOP urges ‘damage assessment’ after classified documents found at Biden office

President’s attorneys turned over materials the next day, unlike Trump

Ohio Rep. Michael R. Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, wants the director of national intelligence to brief his panel.
Ohio Rep. Michael R. Turner, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, wants the director of national intelligence to brief his panel. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Corrected 3:01 p.m. | Republicans are escalating their calls for swift federal action after the Justice Department announced that classified documents were found at the University of Pennsylvania office of President Joe Biden, arguing he should receive the same treatment as Donald Trump.

Federal officials and Biden attorneys said he used the office at times after serving for eight years as vice president, adding that his team immediately notified Justice when the documents were found while staff was cleaning out the office.

The revelation has similarities to the highly classified papers former President Trump took to his Florida resort, but one major difference is the Biden camp’s immediate disclosure that some sensitive materials had been found.

Rep. Michael R. Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, is calling for top U.S. intelligence officials to conduct an “immediate review and damage assessment” and provide a classified briefing for the panel.

“It has been reported that a portion of the materials at issue were marked ‘sensitive compartmented information,’ indicating the highest classification and most sensitive intelligence information in our government,” Turner wrote in a Tuesday letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines. 

“This discovery of classified information would put President Biden in potential violation of laws protecting national security, including the Espionage Act and Presidential Records Act,” he added.

Biden has yet to become the subject of a federal investigation about the papers found at the Penn Biden Center, established during his post-vice presidency as a think tank for the school in Washington.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland tasked John R. Lausch Jr., the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Chicago, with reviewing the documents and assessing the situation. He has been doing so since November, according to The New York Times, citing two sources.

Richard Sauber, a special counsel to Biden, said in a statement that on Nov. 2, when the papers were located, it was some of the president’s attorneys who did so.

“The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the Archives,” Sauber said. “Since that discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the [National Archives and Records Administration] and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives.”

Trump case

Trump resisted federal officials’ efforts to retrieve classified documents he took from the White House, prompting an FBI raid of his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Trump has argued he declassified each one of the documents found in Florida. His team, so far, has not presented any official paper trail that showed the 45th president declassified the materials before leaving office. A former president does not have the power to declassify documents after leaving office.

The papers the Biden team found reportedly are far fewer than the hundreds it has been reported were found in Trump’s possession. But that is not stopping Republicans from raising questions and calling for presidential punishment.

During a Tuesday news conference, House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, R-La., did not say whether he thinks Biden broke the law or should be reprimanded.

“The only person that has the constitutional ability to declassify any documents is the president of the United States, not the vice president,” Scalise told reporters during the new House GOP leadership team’s first news conference. “I wonder why the press hasn’t been asking the same questions of him as vice president taking classified documents that they were asking President Trump?”

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who in recent weeks has aligned herself with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, on Tuesday called for Garland to treat Biden “exactly” as Justice is treating Trump — despite differences in how each matter was handled — or face impeachment.

Democrats’ defense

One key Democrat rose to Biden’s defense.

“Unlike Trump, who allegedly obstructed efforts to recover hundreds of classified docs, the handful of classified docs reportedly found at Biden Center were immediately sent to Natl Archives,” Senate Judiciary Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., tweeted. 

“President Biden is allowing the Justice Department to operate free of political interference. And unlike Donald Trump’s Attorney General, Bill Barr, Merrick Garland is not acting like the President’s personal lawyer.”

Durbin added, “U.S. Attorney Lausch is a by-the-book prosecutor who was confirmed with bipartisan support during the previous Administration. I trust that he will handle this investigation with the utmost professionalism and without bias.”

This report was corrected to accurately reflect Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene‘s comments on Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s role.

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