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Justice Dept. search of Biden home in Wilmington turns up more documents

During one of his few comments on the matter, President Biden said Thursday while surveying storm damage in California that he had “no regrets” about how the White House has handled the disclosure of classified documents. (Susan Walsh/AP)
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The Justice Department on Friday completed an extensive search of President Biden’s home in Wilmington and turned up additional classified documents, some of which date to his time in the United States Senate and others from his eight-year tenure as vice president, the president’s personal attorney announced Saturday night.

After being given full access to Biden’s home — including personally handwritten notes, files, papers, and binders that covered decades of his work — the Justice Department took possession of six items. Those items, according to the president’s personal attorney Bob Bauer, consisted of “documents with classification markings and surrounding materials.”

The Justice Department also took some of Biden’s handwritten notes from his vice-presidential years to further review them.

It is the latest striking development in a fast-moving investigation, with the personal residence of a sitting president now having been subject to a 13-hour search by federal agents. Biden aides said the wide-ranging search and the fact that it was conducted with the president’s permission were indications of how eager they are to resolve the matter.

The Department of Justice found additional classified documents during a search of President Biden’s home in Wilmington, his lawyer announced on Jan. 21. (Video: Reuters)

“In the interest of moving the process forward as expeditiously as possible, we offered to provide prompt access to his home,” Bauer said.

Both the current and the most recent former president have had federal agents extensively search their properties as special counsels investigate the handling of classified information. In Biden’s case, his lawyers voluntarily opened the home so agents could inspect it. With Donald Trump, by contrast, the FBI conducted a court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago after he and his aides had not fully complied with a federal subpoena to hand over documents.

It is unclear what precisely investigators took from Biden’s home, and how many documents or pages are involved. During an earlier search, Biden’s lawyers said they found other classified documents in Biden’s garage and adjacent room, turning them over to the DOJ. A person familiar with the case said some of the documents found in the first discovery of classified materials related to Iran.

Justice Department personnel were given full access to the house on Friday and were there from 9:45 a.m. until around 10:30 p.m., according to Bauer. They covered “all working, living and storage spaces in the home,” he said. They sifted through handwritten notes, files, papers, to-do lists, and schedules, taking possession of anything deemed relevant to the inquiry.

Both Bauer and Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, were at the residence for the search, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Bauer said Biden voluntarily offered to provide prompt access to search the entire premises of his property for potential records. He said that the Justice Department requested that the search not be made public in advance, and Biden’s attorneys agreed to those terms.

“Since the beginning, the President has been committed to handling this responsibly because he takes this seriously,” Sauber said in a statement Saturday night. He added that neither the president nor first lady was present for the search.

After the statements were released, Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, appeared on MNSBC and said the Friday search came after Biden’s personal attorneys offered the Department of Justice access to the president’s home.

“He respects the Justice Department,” Sams said of Biden. “He wants them to be able to be able to conduct this review thoroughly, and so he is giving them access to the information they need.”

Sams referred questions about the potential of any additional searches to the Justice Department.

“The reason that is happening is because he is not resisting an investigation,” he said. “He is not stonewalling. He is offering total cooperation with the Justice Department as this proceeds.”

Inside the White House document strategy and its pitfalls

Biden’s home in Wilmington has been a frequent retreat where he spends his weekends, a practice he also had during the vice presidency. During those years, he had a secure facility at his house that enabled him to handle classified information, a facility that was decommissioned when he left office.

It has been unclear whether the documents found at his home were left there when he was vice president, or were simply stored in his home after he left office.

It is also unclear what types of Senate papers may have triggered the interest of DOJ officials. Biden was a longtime senior member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, a position where he would have often dealt with sensitive information. In 2012, Biden donated an extensive collection of papers from his 36-year career in the Senate to his alma mater, the University of Delaware.

After the first batch of classified documents was found in Biden’s office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, a spokesman for the University of Pennsylvania told The Washington Post that it had not been asked to do any searches for classified documents. A spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday night.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said a special counsel probing President Biden's handling of classified documents will operate in an "evenhanded" manner. (Video: The Washington Post)

Biden has said relatively little as documents have been discovered in recent weeks at the Penn Center, then at his Wilmington house and garage. The discoveries have prompted a political tempest, the appointment of a special counsel, criticism from Republicans and scrutiny from the House Oversight Committee.

Biden said Thursday that he had “no regrets” about how the White House has handled the disclosure of classified documents. He pledged at the time to cooperate with the Justice Department and expressed confidence that it would be resolved soon.

“I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there,” he said in his fullest comments since a number of new developments had taken place.

“I have no regrets in following what the lawyers have told me what they want me to do — it’s exactly what we’re doing,” he added, while still making clear that he was aggravated with the persistent questions about it. “There’s no there there.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland in November asked John R. Lausch, the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump administration holdover, to oversee the matter. Just over a week ago, in part based on a recommendation from Lausch, Garland appointed a special counsel — Robert K. Hur, a senior official at the Justice Department during the Trump administration.

Hur is not expected to start until later this month, and Lausch is overseeing the investigation. Joseph Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Lausch, confirmed that “the FBI on Friday executed a planned, consensual search of the President’s residence in Wilmington.”

The first set of classified documents was found at his post-vice-presidential office in November by one of Biden’s personal attorneys, Pat Moore, while Moore was cleaning out the office. Those were turned over to the National Archives.

Another set of classified material was found at Biden’s Wilmington home in late December, but neither discovery was made public until earlier this month. A third set of documents was found at the Delaware home last week — a place that the White House confirmed Monday does not keep visitor logs.

His allies say that despite the uproar, Biden is limited in what he can say because of the investigation by Hur.

On Jan. 10, Biden said he was “surprised to learn” about the documents at the Penn Biden Center, an institute near the U.S. Capitol in Washington that Biden started after serving as vice president. He added, “We’re cooperating fully — cooperating fully with the review, which I hope will be finished soon, and there will be more detail at that time.”

The president’s supporters argue that Biden’s situation is nothing like the allegations facing former president Donald Trump and his handling of classified papers.

While the Biden documents were inadvertently mishandled and quickly returned, they say, Trump has refused to return sensitive material he took from the White House — at one point suggesting he had declassified them mentally — and has spoken defiantly of investigators.

Trump’s resistance eventually led to agents obtaining a judge’s approval for a warrant to conduct a search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, which took place in August.

In Biden’s case, such legal action was not necessary because Biden voluntarily offered to allow agents to search his home.

Sams, the spokesman for the White House counsel, said that there was no warrant for the Friday search, emphasizing it was conducted in coordination with the Justice Department.

Still, the flap surrounding Biden comes at an inopportune moment for him. The president is expected to announce in the coming weeks that he is seeking reelection, and he had been on something of a political upswing as House Republicans struggled to name a speaker.

But in recent days, the White House has had to contend with numerous questions surrounding the classified document discoveries and has often been unable to answer them fully.

The Post reported on Wednesday that some of Biden’s top officials had been kept in the dark about the documents’ discovery before it was made public. White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, asked repeatedly about the documents by reporters, struggled to provide clear-cut answers.

“There’s no way for me to talk about the documents if he has said he doesn’t know what’s in them,” Jean-Pierre said. “And we’re just going to allow the process to continue.”

The same day, Jean-Pierre was asked if she could provide assurances that no more classified documents would be found, and she declined to answer. She has since referred almost all questions on the matter to the White House Counsel’s Office and to the Department of Justice.

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)

Perry Stein contributed to this report.

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.