WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Tuesday addressed the controversy over classified documents found at a former office of his in Washington, saying that he was "surprised" when he learned of their existence and that his attorneys have been "cooperating fully" with the government's review of the records.
"People know I take classified documents and classified information seriously,” Biden said in response to a question at a news conference in Mexico City. “I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there were any government records that were taken there to that office. But I don’t know what’s in the documents. My lawyers have not suggested I ask what they were.”
Fewer than a dozen documents with classified markings were found in the office Biden used while he was out of office, two sources familiar with the matter said.
The White House on Monday confirmed a CBS News report that a “small number of documents” with classified markings that appeared to be from the Obama administration had been found at a think tank tied to Biden.
The acknowledgment launched a flurry of criticism from Republicans and former President Donald Trump, whose Florida home was raided last year in search of documents he had removed from the White House.
Congressional Republicans have launched an investigation into the Biden documents. Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the chair of the Oversight and Reform Committee, sent a letter Tuesday asking White House counsel Stuart Delery for "documents and information related to the White House’s handling of this matter."
A source familiar with the matter previously confirmed that Attorney General Merrick Garland asked John R. Lausch, the U.S. attorney for Northern Illinois, to review how classified material ended up at the Penn Biden Center. The review was assigned to Lausch, a holdover Trump appointee, to avoid any conflict of interest, the source said.
Two senior law enforcement officials told NBC News on Tuesday that Lausch has been reviewing the findings of FBI agents for the last several weeks. Although the investigation is not fully complete, the sources said Garland has been briefed on the preliminary findings. It’s now up to Garland to decide whether to open a criminal investigation; the review by Lausch was just a preliminary inquiry.
Biden’s attorneys discovered the documents Nov. 2 in a locked closet as they prepared to vacate office space at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a statement.
The University of Pennsylvania leased a suite of offices for the center in February 2018, including an office for Biden’s personal use when he was in Washington.
The documents in Trump's possession were found in his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, and were obtained in part from requests from the National Archives and then, later, through a search warrant executed by the FBI.
In all, federal investigators recovered over 300 documents with classification markings from Trump.