Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, are seen in this April 2018 file photo. Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP

Seeing classified documents is part of the job for Maine’s U.S. senators. They are now wondering why the biggest political names have taken so many records home.

This week, news broke that former Vice President Mike Pence had a small number of classified records in his Indiana home, joining President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump as part of a string of discoveries dating back as far as 2021.

Each case is different. Trump faces a criminal investigation in connection with roughly 300 classified documents found at his Florida resort home, which was the subject of an FBI raid last year. Biden and Pence appear to have had fewer documents and there is no indication they knew of the records before they were turned over. The Justice Department has appointed special counsels to investigate Trump and Biden, who had documents from his vice presidency.

The revelations have laid bare an uncomfortable truth: Policies meant to control the nation’s secrets are haphazardly enforced among top officials, relying almost wholly on good faith, while Congress and the intelligence community have far more rigid guidelines for controlling access to confidential information.

Maine’s senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, are both on the Senate Intelligence Committee, where members each are designated one staffer with top-secret security clearances who have access to classified information only on a need-to-know basis.

Members of the committee can only view classified documents at a secure complex, where no copying or removal is allowed except for what is necessary for committee business, according to the panel’s rules of procedure. They also are not allowed to discuss what is in classified documents with anyone, except in extenuating circumstances.

“As a member of the Intelligence Committee, I find these discoveries puzzling because I come in contact with classified materials on a regular basis and am always required to return them before leaving the secure facility,” King said in a statement.

Collins said she has never taken a classified document home and that the panel is speaking with Biden administration officials to learn more about the recent discoveries, what the security risks are and what can be done to avoid these situations in the future.

“The storage of classified documents outside of a designated, secure facility by any former or current officeholder is a serious matter,” she said.

King said it is clear that executive branch officials need to develop procedures to restrict movement of classified documents and examine those kept at the end of a president or vice president’s term, with justification presented for documents that are kept. That has echoed calls from other members of Congress after the recent round of disclosures.

“I can see how this happens,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia. “But again, every situation is different. They are all very serious. So, how many? How serious? How did you get them? Who had access to them? Are you being cooperative? And the same set of questions has to be answered with respect to Pence and with President Biden and President Trump.”

The episodes carry political implications for each of the three big-name politicians. Biden, a Democrat, has indicated he will seek reelection in 2024. Trump, a Republican, is already a declared candidate, and Pence, his former vice president, has been exploring a possible 2024 campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...