Classified documents dating back to the Obama administration keep turning up in President Joe Biden’s personal workspaces, beginning with 10 documents found in November, days before the election, to six additional documents discovered at the President’s home in Delaware this week.
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into whether the classified documents—which are supposed to remain in secure locations tracked by the National Archives—were ever mishandled, and if any federal laws were violated. Details about how many total classified documents were discovered and their contents remain unclear.
The situation is eerily reminiscent of former President Donald Trump’s possession of classified documents first discovered at his Florida home in June. Biden condemned Trump’s actions and supported the special counsel investigation into the former president’s handling of the documents, which began just two weeks before the first batch of Biden’s classified documents were discovered.
The timing of the discoveries also raises questions about why the investigations—which began one day after the midterm elections that the Democratic party was favored to lose—were kept quiet for so long. It wasn’t until last week when news investigations revealed the discoveries that the White House publicly acknowledged the case.
“People know I take classified documents and classified materials seriously,” Biden said at a briefing on Thursday, adding that he was “cooperating fully and completely with the Justice Department’s review.”
Here’s the timeline of events:
On November 2, Biden’s private attorneys unexpectedly discovered the first collection of about 10 classified documents from the Obama-Biden administration in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center office in Washington D.C—a think tank that Biden founded. Biden began working at the office occasionally in 2017 after his vice presidency ended.
Following statutory requirements, the documents were voluntarily turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). On November 4, NARA informed the Justice Department (DOJ) about the revelation. Midterm elections, where the Democratic party was favored to lose its Congressional majority, took place a few days later on November 8.
On November 9, the FBI began an inquiry into whether any laws were broken and if classified information was mishandled. Several days later on November 14, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland assigned John Lausch, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, to the case to determine if a special counsel was needed.
The following month, Biden’s personal counsel found additional classified documents in the president’s private library attached to his garage during an inspection of his home in Wilmington, Delaware on December 20. The attorneys informed Lausch about the findings and handed the documents over the following day.
A few days into the new year, Lausch filled Garland in on the investigation on January 5 and recommended that the DOJ appoint a special counsel, who would extensively investigate and potentially prosecute any wrongdoing.
On January 9, CBS News was the first to report on November’s discovery of classified documents, bringing the case to public attention. The White House then publicly confirmed the inquiry, saying that the administration was cooperating with the DOJ and NARA, but didn’t mention the additional classified documents found in December.
“The White House is cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice regarding the discovery of what appear to be Obama-Biden Administration records, including a small number of documents with classified markings,” White House lawyer Richard Sauber said in a statement.
On January 10 at a news conference from Mexico, Biden said that he was surprised to learn about the classified documents, explaining that his team helped him set up his personal office after his vice presidency ended. The White House asserted that it was an oversight and that Biden’s team acted immediately to hand over all classified documents upon their discovery.
During another inspection of Biden’s home on January 11, his personal counsel found one more classified document stored in a room adjacent to the garage. The lawyers informed the DOJ about the latest uncovering the next day, on January 12. These documents were in addition to the ones found there in December.
That afternoon, Garland announced the appointment of Robert Hur, a Trump-era U.S. attorney for the district of Maryland, as special counsel. “The extraordinary circumstances here require the appointment of a special counsel for this matter,” Garland said at the briefing, also mentioning the second batch of classified documents obtained in December.
Later that day, Biden’s team found an additional five classified documents at his home in Wilmington. The White House shared this discovery on January 14.
“The President directed his personal attorneys to be forthcoming and fully cooperative,” Bob Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, said in a statement to the press on Saturday. “The President’s personal attorneys have attempted to balance the importance of public transparency where appropriate with the established norms and limitations necessary to protect the investigation’s integrity.”