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Timeline: Biden’s retention of classified documents

Attorney General Merrick Garland on Jan. 12 appointed a special counsel to investigate the handling of classified documents found at President Biden’s homes. (Video: The Washington Post)

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to examine the discovery of classified documents in unauthorized locations in President Biden’s former private office and his Wilmington, Del., home.

The situation carries some parallels to former president Donald Trump’s retention of such documents, for which Garland has also appointed a special counsel. But the information released publicly so far also includes plenty of differences — both in the volume of the documents and in the apparent effort by Biden’s legal team to quickly return the documents to government custody. Trump’s resistance to returning the documents led to the court-approved FBI search of his residence at Mar-a-Lago in August and is central to the legal jeopardy he currently faces.

Below is a timeline of events related to the Biden documents case, based on both reporting about the documents and Garland’s remarks Thursday. It will be updated as we learn more.

Nov. 2: The first batch of classified documents — about 10 of them, including some marked top secret, according to Washington Post reporting — is found after one of Biden’s private attorneys opens a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington. The Penn Biden Center is a think tank affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania that Biden founded and whose offices he used after his time as vice president ended in early 2017. Garland describes it as a location “not authorized for storage of classified documents.”

The documents are immediately turned over to the National Archives, according to Richard Sauber, special counsel to Biden. Sauber said the documents “were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by” the National Archives and Records Administration — unlike the classified materials eventually found at Mar-a-Lago.

Nov. 4: The inspector general of the Archives, which maintains presidential records, contacts a prosecutor at the Justice Department to say the White House has disclosed finding classified documents at the Penn Biden Center, according to Garland.

Nov. 9: The FBI begins an assessment to determine whether any laws were broken, Garland said.

Nov. 14: Garland assigns U.S. Attorney John R. Lausch Jr. of Illinois, who had been nominated to the job by Trump in 2017, to conduct an initial investigation to help Garland determine whether a special prosecutor is warranted.

Dec. 20: Sauber informs Lausch that more documents marked as classified were found in Biden’s garage at his residence in Wilmington, Del., according to Garland, and the FBI secures the documents. According to the president’s personal attorney, the president’s lawyers stopped their search upon identifying the documents.

Jan. 5: Lausch briefs Garland on the investigation and recommends the appointment of a special counsel. Garland agrees.

Days after Jan. 5: The Justice Department identifies Robert K. Hur as a potential special counsel, according to Garland. Hur is a former U.S. attorney in Maryland who was nominated to that job by Trump in 2018.

Jan. 9: CBS News reports on the November discovery of the documents, bringing the matter to light for the first time. The White House later confirms that the Justice Department has launched an inquiry and says it is cooperating with both the department and the National Archives. While confirming the inquiry, the White House does not disclose the set of documents found Dec. 20.

Jan. 11: According to a statement later released by the president’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, Biden’s lawyers searched his residence in Wilmington and found “a potential document marked classified” in a room next to the garage. They then stopped searching that space, because they did not have the appropriate security clearance. They also searched Biden’s residence in Rehoboth Beach, Del., but did not find any such records there.

Jan. 12 (morning): Sauber releases a statement confirming the discovery of classified material in Wilmington. According to Bauer’s statement, Biden’s lawyers inform Lausch about the additional document.

Jan. 12 (afternoon): At a news briefing, Garland announces the appointment of Hur as special counsel. During his remarks, he says that Biden’s attorneys had disclosed to the Justice Department just that morning the discovery of one additional document marked classified found at the house in Wilmington.

Jan. 12 (evening): Sauber finds five additional pages of documents marked classified, according to a statement released Saturday. Sauber said he was called in after the discovery of the document that morning because he has a security clearance.

Jan. 14: Biden’s team discloses the additional pages found on Jan. 12. Sauber says in his statement, “While I was transferring [the initial document] to the DOJ officials who accompanied me, five additional pages with classification markings were discovered among the material with it, for a total of six pages. The DOJ officials with me immediately took possession of them.” Biden’s personal lawyer Bob Bauer also releases a timeline in an effort to emphasize the team’s cooperation in the matter, and says the team is unsure if all relevant documents have been found.

Jan. 19: Biden says he has “no regrets” on how the White House has handled the disclosure that the documents had been found.

Jan. 20: Justice Department personnel search Biden’s home in Wilmington. According to Bauer, the search takes 13 hours and covered “all working, living and storage spaces” in the home. The Justice Department takes possession of six items, consisting of “documents with classification markings and surrounding materials”; it also takes some handwritten notes from Biden’s time as vice president for further review.

Jan. 21: Biden’s lawyers release a statement disclosing the Jan. 20 search.

This story has been updated.

Both President Biden and former president Donald Trump are involved in cases where classified government documents were found in their private possession. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

More on Biden documents

The investigation: Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate the handling of classified documents found at a former office and the Delaware home of President Biden. Here’s what led up to the investigation.

The timeline: A comprehensive look at when, where and how the two batches of classified documents were found. Here’s an explanation of what classified documents are and the penalties for mishandling them.

Who is Robert Hur? Hur, the former U.S. attorney in Maryland, will examine the handling of the classified documents found. As a top attorney at the Justice Department during the Trump administration, he was a key official overseeing and helping to manage the special counsel investigation into Russian election interference.

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.