GOP energized by discovery of Biden classified documents

The revelation of classified documents found in a private office belonging to Joe Biden in between his time as vice president and president has energized the new House Republican majority, which was already poised to launch a multitude of Biden administration-related investigations.

That’s also fueled arguments about the politicization of government agencies as the House GOP – which is getting a slow start organizing after a prolonged Speaker battle –  is set to create a select subcommittee on the “weaponization of the federal government.”

The GOP immediately started making comparisons between the discovery of the Biden documents and an FBI search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property as part of a wider probe involving Trump’s potential mishandling of documents after leaving the White House, despite there being already a handful of differences based on what is known so far about each case.

“The F.B.I conducted a raid on former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence for the same violation,” Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said on the House floor during debate over a resolution to create the select committee on Tuesday. “Why has President Biden, who has repeatedly kept classified materials in an unsecure location for years, never faced a raid? Is it because we have a two-tiered system of justice?” 

The White House for the first time on Monday disclosed that a “small number” of classified documents were found in a University of Pennsylvania office Biden used in Washington on Nov. 2, 2022, just days before the crucial midterm elections.

Attorneys for Biden alerted the National Archives and the materials were turned over the following morning, according to Biden’s counsel. The White House said it is cooperating with a Department of Justice review of the documents.

In comparison, Trump insisted he and his team tried to work with the Archives and that he was forthcoming about the documents he took back with him to Florida after leaving the White House but affidavits indicate that was not always the case.

Still, that didn’t stop Republicans from casting Biden’s document discovery as something just as, if not more serious than Trump’s.

“I just think it goes to prove what they tried to do to President Trump, overplayed their hand on that, that they even had themselves even longer,” Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters on Monday evening, according to Fox News.

The new select subcommittee, housed under the House Judiciary Committee, is being created in part to fulfill a request from those who withheld support from McCarthy for Speaker to have a  “Church-style” investigation of intelligence agencies – in reference to a 1970s Senate panel that probed civil liberties violations by the intelligence community. 

Incoming House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had already been working on probes of the FBI and DOJ, but the new panel will give him increased latitude, including the ability to investigate “ongoing criminal investigations.”

And it’s not just hardline conservatives who are in support of the panel. 

“There’s a large segment of Americans who’ve lost confidence – I don’t think in the rank-and-file of these organizations – but with the senior leadership. And I think it doesn’t hurt to put sunlight on what’s going on and see if there’s really an issue,” said Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.), a member of the bipartisan Problem Solver’s Caucus who represents a district Biden won in 2020.

Bacon added that the revelation of classified documents in Biden’s office is “a data point saying why it needs to be done.”

Beyond the new select subcommittee, the Biden documents are also helping to kick other House GOP committees into high gear.

Incoming House Intelligence Chair Mike Turner (R-Ohio) sent a letter to FBI Director Avril Haines on Tuesday requesting a review of the classified information discovered, along with a damage assessment.

“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,” Turner said.

House Oversight Chairman Comer also sent letters to the National Archives and the White House Counsel’s office on Tuesday requesting documents and communications relating to the classified materials, as well as information about the documents themselves and who may have had access to them.

It appears both Biden and Trump may have failed to follow the Presidential Records Act, which requires presidents and vice presidents to turn over documents to the Archives for secure storage.

The Justice Department revealed last year that it was investigating Trump for possible violations of the Espionage Act, according to a search warrant that showed authorities were authorized to seize any documents or records with classified markings or related to the “transmission of national defense information or classified material.”

While the U.S. attorney in Chicago, a Trump appointee, is reviewing the documents found in Biden’s former office, no such investigation is known to exist against the current president.

Jordan, who is also expected to chair the new subcommittee, did not have an immediate plan of action soon after learning about the Biden documents on Monday night, saying that he needs to learn more about what is in them. 

But he pointed out that while the president can declassify documents, a vice president cannot, alluding to arguments from Trump’s lawyers that claimed had declassified materials found at Mar-a-Lago. It is unknown, however, what, if any, protocol to declassify documents was followed.

“The Supreme Court’s pretty clear that only the president can declassify documents. So if there were classified documents, when you know, Joe Biden was vice president … that’s a huge issue,” Jordan said. 

“The other thing that’s interesting, frankly, is that they knew about this a week before the election. Maybe the American people should have known about it,” Jordan added. “They certainly knew about the raid on Mar-a-Lago 91 days before the election.”

Most Democrats seemed to rally quickly behind the president, noting the sharp distinction between how Biden had handled the discovery of the documents and how Trump had stonewalled the efforts to retrieve the Mar-a-Lago documents for months, according to investigators.

“This is Republican hypocrisy at its finest,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “When the former president had 320 documents found at his personal residence, they said that that will not be a priority.”

But some are waiting for more details to emerge, and emphasized the need for transparency in order to blunt the GOP attacks of a double standard.

“I’m trying not to have a snap judgment on this, but let’s get all that information out there, let’s be very transparent about it. Because we don’t want to suggest a double standard,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.). “My hope would be that if somebody screwed up, they need to just own it, and not make up stories and lousy, evasive narratives like we heard from Trump and his lawyers.”

Huffman acknowledged that the timing would fuel the Republicans’ push for a special committee on government “weaponization.” But “they will use whatever they can get,” he added. 

“I just think Democrats have to be really careful to not project a double standard. I think we want to see full transparency and accountability. And if somebody made a mistake just own it, and let’s move on,” Huffman said.

Mike Lillis and Mychael Schnell contributed.

Updated: 5:42 p.m.

Tags Biden documents Don Bacon James Comer Jim Jordan Joe Biden Kevin McCarthy

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