WASHINGTON — The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has requested that the U.S. intelligence community conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents found in the Washington office space of President Joe Biden’s former institute.
Rep. Mike Turner sent the request Tuesday to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, saying that Biden’s retention of the documents put him in “potential violation of laws protecting national security, including the Espionage Act and Presidential Records Act.”
Irrespective of a federal review, the revelation that Biden potentially mishandled classified or presidential records could prove to be a political headache for the president, who called former President Donald Trump’s decision to keep hundreds of such records at his private club in Florida “irresponsible.”
Biden ignored shouted questions about the matter Tuesday during a bilateral meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Mexico.
Turner’s request came a day after the White House confirmed that the Department of Justice was reviewing “a small number of documents with classified markings.” The documents were discovered as Biden’s personal attorneys were clearing out the offices of the Penn Biden Center, where the president kept an office after he left the vice presidency in 2017 until shortly before he launched his presidential campaign in 2019, the White House said.
“Those entrusted with access to classified information have a duty and an obligation to protect it,” said Turner in a letter to Haines. “This issue demands a full and thorough review.”
The documents were found on Nov. 2, 2022, in a “locked closet” in the office, according to special counsel to the president Richard Sauber.
Sauber said the attorneys immediately alerted the White House Counsel’s office, which notified the National Archives and Records Administration — which took custody of the documents the next day.
“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,” Sauber said.
A person who is familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss it publicly said Attorney General Merrick Garland asked U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch to review the matter after the Archives referred the issue to the department. Lausch is one of the few U.S. attorneys to be held over from Trump’s administration.
Trump weighed in Monday on his social media site, asking, “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?”
Republicans have just taken control of the House of Representatives and are promising to launch widespread investigations of Biden’s administration.
The revelation also may complicate the Justice Department’s consideration of whether to bring charges against Trump, who is trying to win back the White House in 2024 and has repeatedly claimed the department’s inquiry into of his own conduct amounted to “corruption.”
The National Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday. Spokespeople for Garland and Lausch declined to comment.
Rep. James Comer, the new GOP chairman of the House Oversight Committee, said Monday that the revelation raised questions about the Justice Department’s handling of the Trump probe.
“Is the White House going to be raided tonight? Are they going to raid the Bidens?” he asked reporters. “This is further concern that there’s a two-tier justice system within the DOJ with how they treat Republicans versus Democrats, certainly how they treat the former president versus the current president.”
His Democratic counterpart, Rep. Jamie Raskin, said Biden’s attorneys “appear to have taken immediate and proper action.”
“I have confidence that the attorney general took the appropriate steps to ensure the careful review of the circumstances surrounding the possession and discovery of these documents and make an impartial decision about any further action that may be needed,” he added.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee, said Monday that the American public deserved to know earlier about the classified documents.
“They knew about this a week before the election, maybe the American people should have known that,” Jordan told reporters. “They certainly knew about the raid on Mar-a-Lago 91 days before this election, but nice if on November 2, the country would have known that there were classified documents at the Biden Center.”
Jordan is among House Republicans pushing for the creation of a “select subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal government” within the Judiciary Committee.
It wasn’t immediately clear why the White House didn’t disclose the discovery of the documents or the DOJ review sooner. CBS was first to report Monday on the discovery of the potentially classified documents.
The Justice Department for months has been investigating the retention of roughly 300 documents that were marked as classified and were recovered from Trump’s Florida estate. In that instance, prosecutors say, representatives of Trump resisted requests to give back the full stash of classified documents and failed to fully comply with a subpoena that sought their return.
FBI agents in August served a search warrant at the Mar-a-Lago property, removing 33 boxes and containers.
That investigation is being led by special counsel Jack Smith. Prosecutors have interviewed an array of Trump associates and have been using a grand jury to hear evidence.
Democrats made a similar request of the director of national intelligence in August following the search of Mar-a-Lago. Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Adam Schiff, who then led the House Oversight and Intelligence committees, asked Haines for an “immediate review and damage assessment,” alleging that Trump “has potentially put our national security at grave risk.”
Haines agreed in September to conduct a “risk assessment” instead, different from a formal “damage assessment” that carries specific requirements under intelligence regulations.
The risk assessment was to examine the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago for classification as well as “the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents.”
Intelligence officials are not believed to have briefed Congress on their assessment in the four months since, according to public statements from lawmakers. Haines noted in her letter that any risk assessment would not “unduly interfere” with the Justice Department’s criminal investigation into the documents seized at Mar-a-Lago.
Story by Zeke Miller. Associated Press writers Nomaan Merchant, Eric Tucker, Farnoush Amiri, Colleen Long and Michael Tarm contributed to this report.