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Second Biden search yields additional classified documents

Efforts by Biden legal team found more secret papers, according to a person familiar with the matter

Aides to U.S. President Joe Biden found another set of classified documents in a location separate to where the first batch were found as announced on Jan. 9. (Video: Reuters)
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President Biden’s legal team found additional classified documents when they searched a second location after finding secret government papers in a different Biden office in early November, according to a person familiar with the investigation.

Earlier this week, an attorney for Biden said the president’s personal lawyers had discovered a small number of classified documents at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, an institute in downtown Washington that Biden started after serving as vice president. People familiar with the matter said that discovery involved about 10 classified documents.

Biden’s lawyers notified government agencies, and the Justice Department opened an investigation to see how the classified material got there and whether there was any other material that should be under government lock and key.

Legal representatives for the president found additional classified material at a second location, a person said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The person would not say when that material was found. The second batch of classified material was first reported by NBC News.

Spokesmen for the Justice Department, the FBI and the White House declined to comment. Earlier in the day, a White House spokeswoman refused to say if any additional classified material had been found beyond the batch at the Penn Biden Center.

“This is under review by the Department of Justice. I’m not going to go beyond what the president shared,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said, declining to respond to several questions about whether additional properties — including Biden’s Delaware homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach — had been searched.

The Factchecker: Trump, Biden and classified documents

On Jan. 11, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre avoids answering questions about classified documents found at President Biden's former office. (Video: The Washington Post)

White House officials have said that they are cooperating with the Justice Department and that Biden’s lawyers quickly handed over the documents to the National Archives and Records Administration — the agency tasked with handling presidential records.

A Biden lawyer said the classified documents at the Penn Biden Center were found Nov. 2, when one of his personal attorneys opened a locked closet to pack up the contents. The White House Counsel’s Office notified the Archives, which took possession of the documents the following day, a Biden lawyer said.

That discovery came not long before Attorney General General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Jack Smith, to oversee the agency’s criminal investigation into former president Donald Trump’s possible mishandling of hundreds of classified documents that were taken to Mar-a-Lago after his presidency ended. Officials have said the investigation of Trump concerns not just the possible mishandling of government secrets but also possible obstruction of justice or destruction of records.

To review the discovery of Biden classified documents, Garland tapped U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr. of Chicago, a holdover from the Trump administration. Depending on what this initial investigation yields, Garland could decide to appoint a special counsel.

While the Biden case has obvious echoes of the Mar-a-Lago investigation into Trump’s conduct, the details provided by Biden’s lawyer Monday suggest key differences that could factor heavily in whether the Biden documents become a criminal matter.

Skepticism before a search: Inside the Mar-a-Lago investigation

Biden’s lawyer Richard Sauber said the Biden documents were discovered by the president’s lawyers and voluntarily turned over to authorities. By comparison, in Trump’s case, NARA officials pressed for material to be handed over, and then Trump’s office was served with a grand jury subpoena demanding their return. After Trump’s lawyers delivered 38 classified documents in response to the subpoena, an FBI search recovered more than 100 additional classified documents that were not turned over to authorities.

Much of the criminal investigation into the keeping of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s private club and residence, has centered on what officials have described in court papers as possible obstruction of the efforts to recover all of the documents. So far, no such allegation has been leveled in the Biden matter, though it is at an earlier stage.

Legal experts say that it is not uncommon for some people who have security clearances to mishandle classified documents. But these situations are typically handled administratively, not criminally, because the criteria for prosecuting people who mishandle classified documents include proving that the person deliberately flouted rules for how to secure the materials.

Biden opened the Penn Biden Center in February 2018 as a think tank for the University of Pennsylvania in Washington, attracting some of the country’s top foreign policy experts and lawmakers.

More on classified documents

Ongoing probes: The Justice Department currently has two separate criminal probes into classified documents found at President Biden’s and former president Donald Trump’s personal properties. Here’s an explanation of what classified documents are and the penalties for mishandling them.

When, how classified documents were found: A comprehensive look at when, where and how the two batches of classified documents were found in unauthorized locations in Biden’s former private office and his Wilmington, Del., home. Additionally,

How Trump, Biden cases compare: There are key differences between the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s home and former office and Donald Trump’s retention of hundreds of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. Here’s our fact checker. Nonetheless, the furor over the classified documents could make it harder for Democrats to blast Trump.