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Classified docs discovery leaves White House squirming

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US President Joe Biden says he takes storage of classified information seriously but faces questions over stray documents found at a former office./AFP
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Jan 12, 2023 - 12:49 PM

WASHINGTON — The White House faced aggressive questioning Wednesday over the discovery of classified documents apparently mislaid by President Joe Biden, a case complicating the authorities’ probe into a far bigger scandal involving Donald Trump.

NBC News, followed by other US outlets, reported Wednesday that Biden aides had discovered “at least one additional batch” of unsecured documents.

So far, the White House has confirmed that a “small number” of classified documents — reportedly around 10 — were uncovered in a locked closet at a Washington think tank where Biden used to have an office before becoming president. The documents themselves date from his time as vice president to Barack Obama.

The latest revelation guarantees the story won’t die down quickly, with unpredictable consequences for the future of the probe into Trump, who hoarded gigantic numbers of documents at his Florida residence after leaving the White House in 2021.

Although the Trump case is more serious — the FBI carted away some 11,000 documents after serving a search warrant in August and Trump could face obstruction of justice charges — the Biden version is at minimum embarrassing to a president who touts his high ethical standards.

Analysts also say it could also introduce complicated political considerations into the probe of Trump, who is already arguing that Biden should come under the same scrutiny.

“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House,” he wrote on his social media site Truth Social.

No comment 

The White House says that if mistakes were made the administration at least immediately acted to rectify the situation.

As soon as the first batch of documents was discovered in Biden’s former office at the Penn Biden Center think tank last November, lawyers turned them over to the National Archives, which handles all such materials, the White House counsel’s office said.

In addition, lawyers for Biden have been in the process of scouring possible locations for any other stray documents, the counsel’s office said. That may explain the surfacing of yet more papers on Wednesday — and possibly lead to more to come.

In a bid to defuse accusations of political interference, Attorney General Merrick Garland has put a Chicago federal prosecutor appointed during the Trump administration to review the lost Biden documents.

That response differentiates starkly from Trump, who did not cooperate with authorities’ repeated attempts to track down missing documents — leading to the FBI entering his home with a search warrant.

At a briefing with reporters on Wednesday, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly tried to shut down questions, saying that because the Justice Department is investigating the Biden documents she cannot comment. That didn’t stop the questions, however.

“We’re going to be limited on what we can say here,” she said.

Pressed repeatedly, she pointed reporters to Biden’s own carefully phrased statement made during a press conference at the end of a summit in Mexico on Tuesday. Biden stressed that he did not know the contents of the discovered documents and “people know I take classified documents, classified information seriously.”

Facing yet more questioning, Jean-Pierre said: “I’m not going to go beyond what the president shared yesterday. I’m not going to go beyond what my colleagues at the White House counsel shared with all of you as well.”

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