Classified Obama-Biden papers found at think tank, prompting DOJ review

An Illinois-based federal prosecutor has been tasked with investigating the presence of potentially classified documents found at a Washington, DC think tank by President Joe Biden’s personal attorneys.

In a statement, Special Counsel to the President Richard Sauber said Mr Biden’s lawyers found the documents on 2 November as they were “packing files housed in a locked closet to prepare to vacate office space at the Penn Biden Center” — a think tank affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, where Mr Biden held an honourary professorship and where he “periodically” made use of an office from 2017 to 2020, when they discovered a folder which contained documents bearing classification markings.

Mr Sauber added that Mr Biden’s lawyers had immediately notified the National Archives and Records Administration, which took possession of the documents and informed the Justice Department of what had transpired.

“The discovery of these documents was made by the President’s attorneys,” he said. “The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the Archives. Since that discovery, the President’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives.”

It is not known how the documents got there or what they pertain to, but Attorney General Merrick Garland has ordered US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois John Lausch, an appointee of former president Donald Trump, to look into the matter and issue a report. Mr Sauber said the documents appeared to date back to the Obama administration, in which Mr Biden served as vice president.

Mr Sauber said the White House is “cooperating” with both the Justice Department and National Archives “regarding the discovery of what appear to be Obama-Biden Administration records, including a small number of documents with classified markings”.

The discovery of documents bearing classification markings at a think tank bearing the president’s name comes as a Justice Department special counsel considers seeking criminal charges against Mr Trump, who has admitted to taking highly classified documents to his Palm Beach, Florida home, retaining them despite requests to return them to the National Archives, and allegedly obstructing a DOJ probe into whether he had returned the documents as required by law.

An 8 August search of Mr Trump’s home and office at his Mar-a-Lago club by FBI agents turned up more than 11 boxes of documents, with some bearing classification markings at levels as high as “top secret”.

The search followed months of back-and-forth between Mr Trump and the National Archives, which asked the Justice Department to open an investigation in January 2022 after retrieving 15 boxes from Mr Trump’s property and discovering classified material contained within. Mr Trump’s lawyers also turned over more documents to the Justice Department in June after receiving a subpoena from a Washington, DC grand jury, but prosecutors sought the search warrant after developing evidence showing that Mr Trump had not returned all the classified documents in his posession.

Overall, the government has recovered more than 300 documents bearing classification markings from Mr Trump in the two years since his term — and his ability to legally possess classified information — came to an end.

The twice-impeached ex-president has repeatedly claimed in public statements that the documents were his property and has demanded their return. Under US law, the documents are property of the US government.

With additional reporting by agencies