A handful of classified documents were found at former Vice President Mike Pence's home in Indiana and the FBI retrieved them last week, a representative for Pence wrote to the National Archives in letters this month.
Pence’s lawyer characterized the documents as “a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently transported to the personal home of the former vice president at the end of the last administration.” He said they were found Jan. 16 and placed in a secure safe until they could be returned to proper authorities.
This is the latest in a series of discoveries involving classified documents, a widening issue that underscores what security analysts have told USA TODAY: The U.S. system of safeguarding classified presidential documents is in urgent need of improvement, especially during the critical period when one administration hands over the White House keys to another.
Last year, classified documents were found at an office at the Penn Biden Center, and Biden earlier this month voluntarily submitted to an FBI search where agents turned up additional documents.
The Department of Justice executed a search warrant on President Donald Trump's home last year after a long back-and-forth over what documents the former president had at his Mar-a-Lago estate. Trump refused to cooperate with the Department of Justice in that case, a marked difference from Pence and Biden.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed two special prosecutors to oversee the Biden and Trump document cases in order to shield his Department of Justice from politics, since he reports to the president.
What Pence said in the past
Last year, Pence repeatedly denied any knowledge of classified documents at his home. In August, when The Associated Press asked Pence if he took any classified documents to his home, he responded, “No, not to my knowledge.” In November, Pence told ABC News, “There’d be no reason to have classified documents, particularly if they were in an unprotected area.”
The Jan. 18 letter from Pence’s lawyer said the former vice president was “unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence” and that he “understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry.”
The Department of Justice “requested direct possession” of the documents on the evening of Jan. 19, and FBI agents collected the documents from a safe in Pence’s home that night, according a letter dated Sunday.
Garland declined comment, as did the National Archives. Pence’s lawyer was out of the office.
Members of the Senate weigh in
Members of the Senate, which Pence presided over as vice president, were quick to weigh in.
"The law applies to everyone, presidents, former presidents, and former vice presidents,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. “The Justice Department will conduct appropriate investigations and make certain that the law is applied equally and fairly to everyone."
She said the handling of classified information is a matter for the DOJ, and that the law is clear in this area but that it needs to be enforced.
Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told USA TODAY that someone ought to be looking at the homes of pretty much every living president and vice president “very carefully to make sure they don't have something inadvertently – or purposefully – there, which could be threatening to our security."
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia, said that while all the recent cases in question involve high-level officials handling confidential documents, Pence’s is similar to Biden’s because there are so few, and because of how he reacted.
The FBI search warrant executed at Mar-a-Lago turned up more than 11,000 government documents and pictures without classification markers, including 31 “confidential” documents, 54 “secret” documents and 18 marked “top secret.”
“Hopefully there are only a small number and they’re not critical documents,” Tobias said of the Pence documents. “But he seems to have acted very similarly to Biden when he learned of this.”
CNN and Fox News first reported the discovery at Pence's home.
Contributing: Josh Meyer, Rachel Looker, Ken Tran, David Jackson and Kevin Johnson.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Classified documents found at Mike Pence's home: What we know