The FBI’s Search of Joe Biden’s Home for Secret Documents, Briefly Explained

The latest development in the investigation of President Biden’s Justice Department classified documents came Wednesday in Rehoboth, Delaware: FBI agents searched the president’s beach house as part of their investigation into how sensitive documents were found in Biden’s personal office in Washington and at home in Wilmington.

No classified documents were found during the search, Bob Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, said in a statement. Bauer also said the FBI brought some handwritten notes from Biden’s days as vice president, and some additional material to review, as agents did during a search of Biden’s Wilmington home in January.

The search is reminiscent of the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago, former President Donald Trump’s Florida home, but the two are vastly different. According to Bauer, the search was planned and conducted with the “full support and cooperation” of Biden. That corresponds to reporting it a warrant was not necessary for the FBI to do their job. In Trump’s case, the FBI did its job without his cooperation — and with a warrant.

The latest developments in Biden’s case fit into the bigger picture of a White House that has collaborated with the Justice Department from the start, and one that has sought to avoid the perception that Biden is inappropriately influencing the investigation. Partly to keep his distance, the Biden investigation is now led by Robert Hur, a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland in January, but who officially started work on Wednesday.

That means two special counsels are running parallel but separate investigations into a current and a former president. Garland has appointed special counsel Jack Smith to investigate whether Trump broke any laws by mishandling classified material (the FBI recovered hundreds of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago) and obstructed justice by not cooperating with the investigation.

Whether any of the leaders will face any legal ramifications for intentionally or unintentionally holding secret documents remains to be seen. Trump, as a private individual, can be sued handling documents related to national defense inappropriately, and for potentially obstructing the FBI’s investigation. Biden may have run afoul of the Presidential Records Act, but there is not really a punishment for that, since he also handed over the material. So far, the growing focus on Biden’s documents has not hurt him politically, nor does it seem likely. However, now that the campaign for the 2024 election begins, that could always change.

A short summary of the secret documents saga

Trump and Biden are not the only elected officials who had classified documents at home. Representatives of former Vice President (and possible 2024 presidential candidate) Mike Pence told the National Archives, the agency responsible for storing secret documents after the end of a presidency, said a lawyer had found “a small number of documents with secret markings” in Pence’s Indiana home in January. The National Archives then contacted the FBI, who worked with Pence’s legal team to turn over the documents.

Those documents were apparently not stored in a secure room, but had been taped into boxes during the former vice president’s return to Indiana. After they were discovered, the documents were moved to a safe place in Pence’s home until the FBI picked them up, according to CNN. Pence, as a private citizen who collaborated with officials, is not under a formal investigation, but has been said he would cooperate if anything is launched.

The Biden document saga began when on Nov. 2, less than a week before the midterm elections, a batch of material with secret markings was discovered in Biden’s DC think tank and office, the Penn Biden Center. All 10 documents were from Biden’s time as vice president. The president’s lawyers told the White House counsel’s office, which notified the National Archives, which they picked up the next day. This is reported by CBS News, the FBI searched the offices in mid-November. None of this was made public until January.

Biden’s team also searched other locations later in December for more potential documents, and a “small number” of additional documents were found in Biden’s Wilmington home, including a storage unit in the garage. The FBI searched that home on January 20, and the White House announced it the next day. About six items were found and taken by the FBI, along with some other handwritten notes.

The Trump investigation began, as my colleague Andrew Prokop explained earlier, when the National Archives discovered that sensitive information was missing. After requesting the files from Trump, some were returned; others were not. That led to a subpoena (which appears to have been ignored), the warrant, the raid, and ultimately Smith’s investigation. At least 300 classified documents have been recovered from Mar-a-Lago.

The investigations made little impression on the American people

Because both Biden and Pence have discovered secret documents, and because of the high-profile investigations now underway, the National Archives formally requested former presidents and vice presidents to check their records for classified materials or documents from their time in office.

The National Archives is responsible for storing that material after a government ends, in accordance with the Presidential Records Act — a law that applies to the last six presidential administrations since the presidency of Ronald Reagan. The law does not apply to Jimmy Carter, who was president before Reagan.

These requests, the nature of classification (calls for more transparency in government have long discussed that the federal government tends until outclass materials), and the apparent insularity of these legal issues for the Beltway all seem to contribute to the way the American people view these investigations.

Yet Republicans in Congress and conservative media outlets have seized on the slow stream of developments in the Biden documents case to try and nullify some of the scrutiny surrounding Trump’s investigation, downplaying the seriousness of Trump’s case and calling the two falsely equating it to show a double standard, or attempting to create a pretext for any congressional investigations. Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has already done so directed to the Penn Biden Center for researchand used Biden’s searches as a reason for doing so ask for files of any visitors or guests to those places. (Some congressional Democrats are also ask for more information on Biden’s classified documents, but not to attack the president politically.)

Although recent poll by CBS news, CNNand NBC news show that Americans say they are concerned about the discovery of these Biden documents, the president’s overall approval rating has barely changed. According to the same surveys, opinions about Trump’s response to surveys remain negative.

From Quinnipiac polls a similar landscape: Large majorities think Biden mishandled documents and think it’s a serious matter to investigate, but don’t think Biden should be criminally responsible for it. “About two-thirds of Americans are aware of and concerned about the misplaced classified documents found in President Biden’s home and private office. But is it a criminal case? No,” Quinnipiac pollster Tim Malloy said in that poll.

The polls suggest that Americans also see differences between Biden’s case and Trump’s, and Biden’s cooperation with investigators. And, unsurprisingly, the answer to questions about how Trump and Biden have behaved in response to these probes changes depending on whether you ask Republicans or Democrats about each man.

Essentially, while the discoveries raise serious questions about security and presidents’ concern with secrets, neither seems to change the way Americans view Trump or Biden — at least for now.


Similar Posts