IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Senators team up on bipartisan bills to address ‘overclassification’ of documents

A group of Democratic and GOP lawmakers unveiled bills that aim to prevent mishandling of classified documents — an issue that's been a problem for Trump, Biden and Pence.
Image: Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., joined by Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, speaks on security classification reform at the U.S. Capitol on May 10, 2023.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. speaks on security classification reform on Wednesday. Behind him, from left, are Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and John Cornyn, R-Texas.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators unveiled two new bills Wednesday to overhaul the nation's security classification system in the wake of allegations that President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump mishandled classified documents.

The bills would “reform the security classification system in order to reduce overclassification, prevent mishandling of classified information, promote better use of intelligence, and enhance public trust,” the senators said in a press release.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a sponsor of the bills, said that one of the reforms in the bills would require the National Archives and Records Administration to review documents leaving the White House at the end of a president or vice president's term in office.

The issue came to the forefront last year after Trump returned 15 boxes of presidential records to the Archives, including a number of highly classified documents.

He turned more sensitive documents over to the Justice Department in June after getting subpoenaed for their return. An FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida last August, however, turned up over 100 more documents with classification markings, court filings show.

Classified documents from the Obama administration were found among Biden's possession in a office he used in Washington in November. The White House acknowledged the discovery after it was first reported by CBS News in January. More documents with classified markings were then found by the Justice Department at the president's home in Delaware during a voluntary search.

An attorney for former Vice President Mike Pence reported finding some classified documents in Pence's Indiana home earlier this year as well.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has tapped separate federal special counsels to investigate the handling of the Trump and Biden documents.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and complained that the feds should have been more patient. Biden and Pence have said that their representatives turned over their documents as soon as they were discovered, and that they've cooperated with investigators.

Warner, the chair of the Senate Intelligence committee, told reporters the legislation would help make sure documents aren't accidentally removed.

“If any of these individuals did not have an intent to take something inappropriate, then this process we put in place would solve that problem,” he said.

The legislation would also offer stronger protection against unauthorized leaks of classified information, such as the sensitive information alleged to have been released by an Air National guardsman earlier this year. The guardsman, Jack Teixeira, has pleaded not guilty in the case.

Warner said the legislation includes a system that would tighten existing safeguards and flag when someone appears to be leaving with information who should not be.

The senators — Democrats Warner and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Jerry Moran of Kansas — said the bill would also put the director of national intelligence in charge of the classification system, while simultaneously discouraging overclassification and encouraging quicker declassification.

“Controlling access to sensitive information enables the U.S. to remain at least one step ahead of its adversaries, but declassification gives us the opportunity to work with our allies around the world and show the American people what their government is doing,” Cornyn said.

Moran said the bills also include technological upgrades. “When it comes to declassifying documents, our current analog declassification process is about as effective as using an eye dropper to drain a flood," he said.