The congressional leaders known as the "Gang of Eight" were "given a flavor” of what's in the classified documents found on the properties of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee said Sunday.
The bipartisan group, made up of high-ranking lawmakers from the House and the Senate, got a long-awaited first briefing on the issue Tuesday. In a joint interview with Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, on NBC News’ “Meet the Press," the top Democrat on the panel, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut indicated that both were unsatisfied with the level of information they received.
Asked whether there was a distinction among the classification levels of the Biden, Trump and Pence documents, Himes said the group has “not been shown anything that would allow us to draw that conclusion,” adding that they only got a "flavor" during the briefing.
“We’ve got to be a little careful here,” Himes said. “Neither one of us are satisfied that we got enough information to execute our primary responsibility of making sure the sources and methods have been protected. We’ve got more to learn before we can be satisfied on that.
"Having been given a flavor, this is a very serious issue,” Himes said. “This wasn’t stuff that we can say clearly does not matter. It matters.”
Turner stressed that when it comes to the classified documents, the group is looking at the issue “holistically.”
“What do we have to do to fix this? How do we address this? What were the risks involved?” Turner said. “We have to understand also that without Congress having asked, there wasn’t even a risk assessment being done. We were the ones who initiated this. That’s part of the concern.”
Turner also criticized the FBI for “not being forthcoming” when he was asked whether lawmakers know what's in the Trump, Biden and Pence documents.
“They’re not giving us the information. They’re claiming that it’s going to affect the outcome of their investigation, which of course it can’t, because the people who are the targets of their investigation know what are in those documents,” Turner said.
One thing that is known, he added, is that "administration after administration is apparently sloppy and messy in their use of classified documents, and that’s one thing on a bipartisan basis we have to address well beyond just this."
After the Feb. 28 preliminary classified briefing to the Gang of Eight, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner, D-Va., and Vice Chair Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said it “left much to be desired.”
“In accordance with our responsibility to oversee the Intelligence Community and protect our national security, today we met with leaders from the IC and the Justice Department to discuss the exposure of classified documents,” they said in a statement. “While today’s meeting helped shed some light on these issues, it left much to be desired and we will continue to press for full answers to our questions in accordance with our constitutional oversight obligations.”
White House spokesperson Ian Sams said the White House supported the "independent" decisions by the Justice Department and the National Intelligence Director’s Office regarding the briefing.
“We support the Justice Department and ODNI’s decision to be transparent and to offer information to Congress," Sams said in a statement. "The decision to brief and the determination of what content would be briefed were made by DOJ and ODNI independently, consistent with what we have said for months: that the White House has confidence in DOJ and ODNI to exercise independent judgment about whether or when it may be appropriate for national security reasons to offer briefings on any relevant information in these investigations.”
The FBI recovered a trove of top secret and other highly classified documents when it searched Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in August. Classified material from the Obama administration was found among Biden’s vice presidential papers in a Washington office in November, the White House acknowledged after CBS News first reported the discovery in January. The Justice Department found additional documents with classified markings at Biden’s Delaware home during a voluntary search. Also in January, Pence’s lawyer Greg Jacob alerted the National Archives to classified documents discovered at the former vice president’s Indiana home. Jacobs said Pence had directed that a search be undertaken after the Biden revelations.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed separate special counsels to investigate the Trump and Biden documents. He has not appointed a special counsel to review the Pence documents.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, having claimed last year that he can declassify documents “by thinking about it.” The White House has said Biden is fully cooperating with the Justice Department's investigation, and Biden has suggested that the staff members who packed the boxes at the end of the Obama administration were in part responsible.
Meanwhile, Pence’s lawyer said documents were “inadvertently boxed and transported” to Pence’s home at the end of the Trump administration.