President Joe Biden maintains he cooperated swiftly and completely in returning classified documents.
New details from Merrick Garland reveal that it took weeks for DOJ to learn about additional documents.
Unlike Trump's approach to the Mar-a-Lago case, there is no indication that Biden's legal team lied to investigators.
From the moment the story about President Joe Biden's retention of classified documents broke this week, the White House has said it acted swiftly and appropriately. "We're cooperating fully and completely with the Justice Department's review," Biden said Thursday morning. "The Department of Justice was immediately notified."
But new details revealed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in a press conference Thursday afternoon raise questions about the swiftness of Biden's cooperation in making sure that all classified records were handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
After he announced the appointment of former US Attorney Robert K. Hur to investigate the matter, Garland laid out a chronology of the Biden Administration's role in notifying NARA and the Justice Department about the mislaid government documents. The timeline contains significant gaps that suggest that either the White House took its time in coming forward about the caches of documents found in Biden's home and former office, or it inexplicably delayed the relatively straightforward matter of searching for the materials for more than a month.
Forty-eight days elapsed between November 2, when Biden's attorneys discovered the first batch of sensitive documents at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, DC and December 20, when they notified the Justice Department of an additional batch of documents that turned up inside the garage of his residence in Wilmington, Delaware. The White House has not said when the Wilmington search was conducted. But the chronology suggests slowness in either Biden's team completing their search of the residence, or in notifying the Justice Department about what it found.
The second gap is 23 days, the time between the notification about the second discovery in Wilmington, and the discovery of a third document, also found at the Wilmington residence, which the Justice Department learned about Thursday, the morning of Garland's press conference. The White House did not respond to an email asking for an explanation of the delay, and why the document was missed during the first search.
Here is the full timeline of events that Garland presented:
November 4: NARA tells the Justice Department that the first batch of classified papers was found at the Penn Biden Center, and that the documents have been secured.
November 9: The FBI begins an assessment to determine whether any laws were broken.
November 14: Garland asks US Attorney John R. Lausch Jr. to conduct an initial investigation.
December 20: Biden's personal counsel tells Lausch that an additional batch of documents was discovered in the garage of Biden's residence, in Delaware.
January 5: Lausch recommends that Garland appoint a special counsel.
January 12 (morning): Biden's personal counsel informs Lausch that an additional classified document was found at Biden's residence. According to a statement from the White House, "one page was discovered among stored materials in an adjacent room."
January 12 (afternoon): Garland holds a press conference and announces the appointment of Hur as special counsel.
It remains unclear when Biden's team turned the second and third batches over to NARA. NARA did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
"We have cooperated from the moment we informed the Archives that a small number of documents were found," said Richard Sauber, Biden's special counsel, in a statement. "We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake."
On Thursday, Andrew Weissman, who investigated Trump as part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, tweeted additional questions about the Biden document discoveries, asking why it was Biden's lawyers who conducted the second search without any apparent involvement by the FBI.
The new timeline does not indicate that Biden's attorneys failed to cooperate or that they failed to turn over all the classified records after discovering them, actions that can increase the chances of being prosecuted. They only raise questions about how long that process took, and why.
One of Trump's attorneys, by contrast, signed a written statement indicating that the former president had returned all classified material from a storage area at Mar-a-Lago when in fact, he had not. That statement is part of an ongoing investigation by Special Counsel Jack Smith not only for mishandling classified information but for obstructing justice and for his actions on January 6, 2021. Other facets of Trump's response to the Mar-a-Lago search include denigrating the FBI, questioning the Justice Department's authority, and implying that violence would follow if he were indicted.
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