Some of the classified documents from Joe Biden’s time as vice-president that were found last year in a private office included US intelligence memos and briefing materials concerning Ukraine, Iran and the UK, CNN reported, citing a source familiar with the matter.
The documents were found in boxes stored at the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Center for Diplomacy in Washington, where he was an honorary professor until 2019. They were found when his personal lawyers were closing out the office space just before the midterm elections.
“I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there are any government records that were taken there to that office,” Biden said in his first comments since news of the discovery emerged on Monday. He added that “I don’t know what’s in the documents” and that his lawyers had suggested he not ask.
Some of the documents were marked as Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information, and according to CNN were commingled in the boxes with personal documents including planning materials for the 2015 funeral of the president’s son Beau Biden.
The documents were discovered on 2 November, six days before the midterm elections and several weeks before the attorney general, Merrick Garland, appointed a special counsel to investigate mishandling of national security materials and obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.
Biden’s personal lawyers immediately turned the documents over to the National Archives, which acts as the custodian for presidential records. But due to their sensitive nature, the archives issued a referral to the justice department, which has since opened an investigation.
Biden told reporters at a joint news conference with the leaders of Mexico and Canada that he takes classified documents seriously.
“We are cooperating fully with the review, which I hope will be finished soon,” he said.
The attorney general has assigned John Lausch, the Trump-appointed US attorney in Chicago, to oversee the investigation alongside the FBI, according to a person familiar with the matter. A spokesperson for the justice department declined to comment on the ongoing investigation.
The new inquiry comes as the justice department is investigating Trump’s unauthorized retention of national security materials and obstruction of justice after the FBI seized hundreds of records marked classified at his Mar-a-Lago resort in August.
But the circumstances of the Biden documents are also markedly different compared with the materials seized from Trump: Biden does not appear to have retained a vast quantity of classified materials to support an inference of misconduct, or resisted returning them to the government.