Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Thursday that he is appointing a special counsel to investigate classified documents that have been found at one of President Joe Biden’s offices, as well at his home in Delaware.
Garland announced that Robert Hur, a Trump-appointed former federal prosecutor, as special counsel. Hur had previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland and an aide to former FBI director Christopher Wray. Since his departure from federal work, Hur has worked as a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where according to the firm’s website he specializes in “white-collar criminal matters, regulatory proceedings and enforcement actions, internal investigations, and related civil litigation.”
“I will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial, and dispassionate judgment. I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor, and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service,” Hur said in a statement following Garland’s announcement.
The announcement comes after a search conducted by Joe Biden’s legal team found additional documents from Biden’s time as vice president with classified markings stored at his residence in Wilmington, Delaware. The expanded search was conducted after roughly 10 documents bearing classification markings were discovered in an office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement. The documents were turned over to the National Archives, and reports indicate the FBI and Justice Department have initiated a review of their contents.
In a statement released Thursday, Special Counsel to the President Richard Sauber indicated that Biden’s lawyers “searched the President’s Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware,” and “other locations where files from his Vice-Presidential office might have been shipped in the course of the 2017 transition.” According to Sauber, the review identified “among personal and political papers a small number of additional Obama-Biden Administration records with classified markings.” All but one of these documents were reportedly found in a “storage space in the President’s Wilmington residence garage,” with an additional document having been discovered in an adjacent room. No documents were reportedly found in the Rehoboth Beach residence.
Sauber stated that the DOJ was immediately notified of the discovery, and took possession of the documents. “The White House will continue to cooperate with the review by the Department of Justice,” he wrote.
According to a timeline of events provided by Garland, on Nov. 4 the National Archives notified the DOJ that the White House had identified the initial set of documents at the Penn Center, and that the documents had been turned over to the archives. Ten days later, Garland tapped U.S. Attorney John Lausch Jr. to conduct an initial investigation exploring the potential to appoint a special counsel to the case. On Dec. 20, the White House informed Lausch that a second set of documents had been found in the search of Biden’s Wilmington residence. An additional single document was found in a separate room of the house on Jan. 12.
NBC News reported on Thursday that multiple Obama-era Biden aides have been interviewed by federal investigators in relation to the probe. “There was no decision made to take certain documents that should have been presidential records or classified,” one source told NBC News. “The people who were boxing [up the vice presidential office] had no idea that there was anything in there that shouldn’t leave the White House.”
The DOJ review takes place in the shadow of a highly litigious investigation into former President Donald’s Trump’s own retention of massive troves of classified documents following his departure from office. In August, after a protracted negotiation with the National Archives to secure the return of documents that had been identified as missing, the FBI conducted a raid of Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago, uncovering hundreds of documents bearing classification, and even “Top Secret,” designations.
Trump’s legal team launched an intense challenge to the DOJ’s investigations of the recovered documents, even going so far as to petition the Supreme Court to prevent investigators from reviewing the material. The investigation has since revealed that Trump and his team moved and stashed documents from their storage location before the raid, and had been issued a subpoena for the documents before the raid took place.
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In November, Garland also appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into Trump’s document retention, tapping former DOJ Public Integrity Section Chief Jack Smith to determine whether the documents found in Trump’s possession constituted criminal conduct.
The response from the Biden administration has made evident the stark contrast between the two presidents’ handling of the cases. In the case of Biden, the documents, which were much less numerous, were turned over to the DOJ virtually immediately after their discovery, and the administration seems to be cooperating fully and proactively to avoid a protracted adversarial investigation like that of his predecessor, who neglected authorities trying to retrieve the documents to the point that the DOJ had to raid Mar-a-Lago to get them back.