Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday appointed a special counsel to lead an investigation into classified Obama-era documents found in President Joe Biden’s home and former private office.
The Special Counsel Robert HarrHe was nominated by then-President Donald Trump to be the US attorney in Maryland in 2017 and served in that position until his resignation in 2021. He was most recently in private practice in Washington, DC.
“I am confident that the department’s normal processes can handle all inquiries fairly. But under the regulations, the extraordinary circumstances here require the appointment of a special counsel for the matter,” Garland said. “This appointment underscores the department’s commitment to independence and accountability to the public, and particularly to making decisions that are unquestionably guided by the facts and law alone, especially on important matters.”
Harr will get “all the resources he needs to do his job,” he said.
“I will conduct the assigned hearing with fair, impartial and dispassionate judgement. I intend to pursue the facts promptly and thoroughly without fear or favour, and I will respect the trust placed in me to perform this service,” Harr said in a statement.
The appointment marks a landmark moment for Biden and a unique moment in American history with special counsel investigating the current president and his immediate predecessor simultaneously. Garland appointed a special prosecutor in November To oversee criminal investigations into the possession of national security information at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the January 6, 2021 rebellion.
A special counsel investigation, coupled with a radical new Republican-led House of Representatives, could put Biden on the defensive for the next two years.
The appointment comes hours after the White House Counsel’s Office said in a statement Biden’s aides found documents with classified markings in two locations inside his home in Wilmington, Delaware. The documents were located in a storage area in Biden’s garage and in an adjoining room, the statement said. Biden often spends weekends at a home on a lake in an affluent, wooded area.
Speaking on Thursday, Biden said the documents were in a “locked garage” and that he was cooperating fully with the Justice Department.
“It’s not like they’re sitting on the street,” he insisted when asked by a reporter why he would store classifieds next to a sports car.
“God willing, we will soon have an opportunity to talk about all this,” the president said.
White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said the White House had no input on Hur’s nomination. However, she could not say exactly when Biden found out the special counsel had been appointed, as he attended the funeral of former Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
“Perhaps one of his senior advisers told him. I don’t really know when he found out, but what I can tell you – he – we didn’t interfere. I can confirm that,” he told reporters during a briefing on Thursday afternoon.
The special counsel announcement significantly expands the existing investigation, which began as a preliminary review by the U.S. attorney in Chicago. It also increases potential legal exposure for Biden, his aides and lawyers who have handled important government material since his time as vice president. By bringing in a special counsel, Garland is isolating himself from the politically sensitive case, although he will have the final say on whether to press charges. When that decision comes, whatever the outcome, it will surely become a major flashpoint in the 2024 presidential election.
The development puts the Justice Department and the FBI in a place they don’t want to be — in the middle of a presidential election for the third straight cycle. Since 2015, there have been ongoing FBI investigations into presidents and major candidates: Hillary Clinton’s emails; Trump’s ties to Russia; his efforts to subvert the 2020 election and his hoarding of classified material; Now handling Biden’s classified files.
Biden’s special counsel, Richard Saber, said in a statement: “We believe that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and that the president and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovering this mistake.”
During his news conference, Garland laid out a timeline of events in the case.
Garland said Thursday that the National Archives notified a DOJ attorney on Nov. 4 about documents with classified markings found in Biden’s think tank.
The archivist informed the prosecutor that the documents were secured in an archival facility. The FBI began an initial assessment five days later, on November 14, with U.S. Attorney John Lash leading that initial investigation. The following month, on December 20, according to Garland’s account, White House counsel informed Lasch of a second batch of classified documents found at Biden’s Wilmington home. On Thursday morning, Biden’s personal attorney called Losse and informed him that an additional document marked classified had been found at Biden’s home.
Additional documents were discovered following raids on the president’s homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The statement said there were no classified documents on the Rehoboth property. The documents were found in “Personal and Political Papers”. Biden’s lawyers completed their review of the Delaware homes Wednesday evening.
But key questions about the hoard of classified items remain unanswered, including who brought them to Biden’s private homes and what specifically was in them.
Garland decided to hire a special counsel last week from U.S. Attorney John Lash before Garland traveled to Mexico with Biden on Sunday night. Lash presided over the preliminary hearing, and Justice Department officials said Garland based his decision on the facts presented to him by investigators.
But a Justice Department official said White House public statements earlier this week that provided incomplete accounts of declassified documents from Biden’s time as vice president reinforced the need for a special counsel. The false reports created the impression that Biden’s team had something to hide, the official said.
Several people associated with Biden have been interviewed as part of a Justice Department investigation that uncovered classified documents from his time as vice president, two people explained on the matter.
The group may have included former aides from Biden’s time as vice president packing and sealing his records and personal belongings, the people said, and that extends to some people who knew how the documents discovered on Nov. 2 ended up. Inside Biden’s office at the Ben Biden Center for Diplomacy and Engagement.
Names of interviewees are often unclear. More interviews may be conducted going forward, though it’s a fluid process, one of the people said.
A Defense Department official told CNN that Cathy Chung, deputy director of ethics at the Pentagon, was interviewed as part of the Justice Department’s investigation. He served as Biden’s executive assistant when he was vice president.
There was Chung’s interview First reported Via NBC News.
Chung did not respond to CNN’s attempts to contact him. Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder declined to comment earlier Thursday, referring to questions from the Justice Department, saying only that Chung was a Defense Department employee.
The Biden issue exploded into the public eye in January when news reports revealed that a Biden lawyer had discovered 10 classified documents while cleaning out one of Biden’s private offices in Washington, D.C. The discovery occurred in November, days before the midterm elections, but Biden’s team kept the matter under wraps and did not acknowledge anything publicly until it emerged in the press.
CNN reported Wednesday Biden’s legal team has uncovered another batch of classified documents in a search that began in early November following the discovery of classified documents in his former think tank’s office in Washington.
The discovery raised alarm bells in the White House, where only a small circle of advisers and lawyers knew about the matter. An effort was launched to search for other locations where documents from Biden’s tenure as vice president may have been stored.
CNN previously reported The initial package, discovered when Biden’s personal lawyers were packing files in his former private office, contained 10 classified documents, including US intelligence material and references to Ukraine, Iran and the United Kingdom.
Some classified documents are “Top Secret”, the highest level. They were found in three or four boxes, which also contained unclassified documents covered by the Presidential Records Act, CNN reported.
Classified records should be stored in secure locations. Under the Presidential Records Act, White House records must go to the National Archives when an administration ends.
Jean-Pierre declined to answer several questions about the documents, saying the Justice Department continues to review the matter. She could not say who brought the documents to the office.
This story has been updated with additional details.