What are classified documents? Explaining the levels, penalties for mishandling.

As Biden, Trump face special-counsel investigations, and classified documents are found at Pence’s Indiana home, here’s what to know

Former president Donald Trump and President Biden. (Jim Watson, Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

President Biden is facing intense scrutiny after batches of classified documents dating from his vice presidency were found in his former think-tank office in Washington and in his Wilmington, Del., home, sparking a Justice Department investigation and prompting Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint Robert K. Hur as special counsel to investigate.

Garland announced the appointment on Jan. 12, two months after he named a different special counsel to oversee the criminal probe of former president Donald Trump’s handling of classified information. The scope of that probe includes the possible hiding, tampering with or destruction of government records.

A week later, an attorney for former vice president Mike Pence discovered “a small number” of documents bearing classified markings during a search of Pence’s Indiana home. Garland and the Justice Department have not yet commented on these documents.

Elected officials’ handling of sensitive government material has been the subject of fierce political debate in recent years — drawing public attention to the way classification, a bureaucratic process that’s a staple in Washington, actually works.

Here are the basics.

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.