‘We’re going to respect the process’: White House won’t reveal details of documents found at DC think tank

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Wednesday declined to provide reporters with details regarding the discovery of documents bearing classified markings at a Washington, DC think tank office previously used by President Joe Biden.

Ms Jean-Pierre spent much of her daily press briefing parrying questions from reporters, many of whom demanded to know why Mr Biden did not publicly reveal that his lawyers discovered roughly a dozen documents reported to bear classification markings at the Penn Biden Centre, where Mr Biden was given an office as part of an honourary professorship he held from 2018 to 2020.

“What I can tell you right now is what the President ... said to all of you, which is he was surprised by this. He definitely truly respects the process here. And also when it comes to classified, he takes classified documents very seriously,” she said. “And, again, I'm going to leave you to the information that the President provided to all of you ... and also what my White House Counsel colleagues shared”.

A White House attorney, Special Counsel to the President Richard Sauber, said in a statement on Monday that the documents were found on 2 November by Mr Biden’s personal lawyers, who were packing the contents of an office allotted to Mr Biden at the University of Pennsylvania-affiliated think tank’s suite in northwest Washington, which the then-former vice president “periodically” used from 2017 until he announced his 2020 presidential campaign.

Mr Sauber said Mr Biden’s lawyers notified the National Archives of the discovery, with archivists taking possession of the documents at issue the next day.

“The discovery of these documents was made by the President’s attorneys. 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,” he added.

Ms Jean-Pierre said she has not spoken with Mr Biden about the contents of the documents and stressed to reporters that the Department of Justice “review” of the documents and how they came to be in Mr Biden’s former office remains ongoing, and referred questions on whether the White House has asked US Intelligence Community for a security or damage assessment to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“It is literally under review right now ... as I am talking to you, it is under review. So I'm not going to get beyond the process. I'm not going to get beyond what the President said,” she said. “My colleagues in the White House Counsel laid out a very detailed information about ... this particular issue on Monday, you all have that. I'm just not going to get beyond that”.

Republicans have pounced on the discovery of the apparently classified documents at Mr Biden’s former office and have leveled charges of hypocrisy at Mr Biden, under whom the Department of Justice is currently conducting a criminal investigation of his predecessor, Donald Trump, stemming from Mr Trump’s hoarding over hundreds of highly classified records at his Palm Beach, Florida beach club and his alleged unlawful retention of those documents over the objections of the Justice Department.

Former vice president Mike Pence, who is contemplating a 2024 presidential run against Mr Biden, said Tuesday on a right-wing radio talk show that the report of documents discovered at the Penn Biden Centre was “incredibly frustrating” and evidence of a “double standard,” citing the FBI search of Mr Trump’s home and office on 8 August of last year.

Mr Pence described that court-authorised search as a “massive overreach” and suggested that the FBI should now be searching Mr Biden’s homes, even though Mr Biden’s lawyers immediately notified the government of the document discovery and Mr Trump spent 18 months resisting the government’s demand that he return documents he personally ordered brought to his Florida property before the end of his term.

“What they have unleashed now has the threat of coming back on them,” he said.

Pressed on Mr Pence’s remarks, Ms Jean-Pierre pointed out the difference between what Mr Biden’s lawyers did and Mr Trump’s refusal to return the documents he’d retained, telling reporters that the president’s legal team “did the right thing”.