U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday named a special counsel to investigate how classified government documents ended up being stored at a former Washington office of President Joe Biden and at his Wilmington, Delaware, home.
Garland, the top U.S. law enforcement official, selected career prosecutor Robert Hur, a former lead federal prosecutor in the eastern state of Maryland, to conduct the probe. Hur also served as a high-ranking Department of Justice official during the administration of Biden’s immediate predecessor, Republican Donald Trump.
Garland’s decision followed his earlier appointment of special counsel Jack Smith to conduct a similar investigation of Trump. For months, the former president balked at turning over sensitive classified documents to the National Archives and Records Administration as required by U.S. law when he left office two years ago and had them shipped to Mar-a-Lago, his oceanside retreat in Florida, where he lives.
Garland told reporters at the Justice Department that Hur’s appointment “underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability for particularly sensitive matters."
Some Republicans had called for Garland to name a special counsel to investigate the Democratic president.
New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol, said, "I think Congress has to investigate this. I do not think any American believes that justice should not be equal to all."
As special counsel, Hur, 49, will have more independence than a normal federal prosecutor to investigate Biden’s handling of the classified documents as he left the vice presidency in early 2017, but ultimately will answer to Garland.
Two sets of classified documents linked to Biden have been discovered. They include about 10 at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, a Washington research group Biden helped create after his eight years as second-in-command to then-President Barack Obama. Another collection was discovered at Biden’s Wilmington home, with all but one of the documents in the garage. The other document was found in an adjoining room.
Biden’s personal lawyers immediately turned over all the materials to the National Archives, which is responsible for storing and preserving presidential records.
Biden’s case contrasts in significant ways with the investigation of Trump’s handling of classified documents. Trump left Washington in early 2021 with hundreds of classified documents, eventually relinquishing some of them after demands from the archives, while the FBI collected dozens of others last August in a court-approved search of his office, a storage area and other rooms at Mar-a-Lago.
Garland initially named John Lausch, the top U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to look at Biden’s cache of documents. Garland said Lausch a week ago recommended that a special counsel be named.
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Hur’s investigation will examine whether “any person or entity violated the law in connection with this matter,” Garland said.
After the Hur appointment, the White House said it would continue to cooperate with the investigation.
“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,” the White House said.
Hours ahead of the Garland appointment of Hur, Richard Sauber, a special counsel to Biden, said that after the initial documents were found at the Penn Biden Center, Biden's lawyers searched other locations where records might have been sent.
Sauber, in a statement, said Biden's lawyers also searched Biden's vacation retreat near the Atlantic Ocean in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, but found no other papers.
Sauber said the Department of Justice was "immediately notified" after the documents were found in Wilmington and that department lawyers took custody of the records.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Biden attempted to minimize the discoveries in an apparent effort to contrast his case with the months-long dispute between Trump and the archives over the classified documents that were transferred to Mar-a-Lago.
“As I said earlier this week, people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously," Biden told reporters, adding that his administration is "cooperating fully … with the Justice Department's review.”