Congressional leaders known as the Gang of Eight have begun receiving access to classified documents found in the possession of former President Donald Trump, President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence after they left office, a source familiar with the matter said.
Law enforcement officials found documents with classified markings at the homes or private offices of all three men, and the handling of the documents is under federal investigation. The House and Senate intelligence committees had been seeking access to the material.
The Justice Department had previously rejected the committees' requests to turn over the documents, saying they were part of an active investigation. But the lawmakers had expressed frustration at what they described as the DOJ's sparse briefings on the matter. In a statement released after a briefing in February, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said it “left much to be desired.”
Warner and Rubio are members of the Gang of Eight, which also includes the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee and the top Democratic and Republican leaders in each chamber. Congressional leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Department of Justice declined to comment.
Warner, in an interview in Harrisburg, Virginia, on Tuesday, drew a connection between the alleged mishandling of classified documents by Biden, Trump and Pence and the recent apparent leak of U.S. documents related to Ukraine, saying Congress needs to play a role in a "more systemic response rather than how we just make sure this one example doesn’t happen again.”
“We’ve now got two examples, you know, the potential mishandling of documents by current and former presidents and now this potential leak, or real leak,” Warner said, “I think it does raise a question that in some cases we way overclassify. In other cases, we may appropriately classify but give out the documents to too many people.”
Warner said that the Gang of Eight has now been given access to "the first tranche" of classified documents taken from the Pence, Trump and Biden properties and that he expects to see more later in the week. "I think the most challenging ones, we’re yet to receive," he said.
The lawmakers had been pushing for a briefing since the FBI initially executed a search warrant at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in August under suspicion that the former president had not turned over all of the classified documents in his possession. FBI officials recovered more than 100 documents with classified markings in the search. The lawmakers renewed their calls for a briefing in January, when a lawyer for Biden revealed Obama-era classified documents had been found in an office Biden used after finishing his tenure as vice president. Additional documents were later recovered from Biden's Delaware home.
In February, Pence reported finding classified documents in his home; the FBI later recovered an additional document in Pence's possession.
“It should have never taken six months for us to start being able to do our duty as congressional oversight of the intelligence community,” Warner said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith in November to serve as the special counsel investigating Trump's handling of the classified documents. Garland tapped Robert Hur in January to head up the Biden documents probe.
Punchbowl News was the first to report the Gang of Eight gaining access to the classified documents.