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Biden on defensive over classified documents

Published : 13 Jan 2023 11:22 PM | Updated : 14 Jan 2023 04:31 PM

US President Joe Biden said Thursday a second set of classified documents had been found at his private residence, prompting calls for a congressional investigation into the alleged mishandling of official papers.

The records, from Biden's time as vice president, were discovered at a storage space in the garage of his home in Wilmington, Delaware, where he often spends weekends, his lawyer said.

The statement did not address the contents of the documents -- but their discovery has supercharged a growing furor over a first batch of documents found at a Washington think tank where Biden had an office.

The disclosure prompted comparisons to the criminal probe into former president Donald Trump's hoarding of hundreds of classified materials at his South Florida beachfront home and his alleged obstruction of government efforts to get them back.

"People know I take classified documents and classified material seriously. We're cooperating fully (and) completely with the Justice Department's review," Biden told reporters.

"As part of that process, my lawyers reviewed other places where documents from my time as vice president were stored, and they finished the review last night."

The president said a "small number" of documents with classified markings had been found in storage areas and his library and that the Justice Department was notified immediately.

Biden declined to take shouted questions from the press, but House Speaker Kevin McCarthy called for a congressional investigation into the discovery and the earlier find, in a closet at his former office in Washington.

Biden had told reporters in Mexico City on Tuesday he was "surprised" to learn of the original discovery on November 2, saying he did not know that any had been taken there.

Attorney General Merrick Garland was due to address reporters at 1.15pm (1815 GMT), prompting feverish speculation that he may have decided to appoint an independent prosecutor to look into the case, along the lines of the special counsel probing Trump.

In a bid to defuse accusations of political interference, he already assigned a Trump-appointed prosecutor in Chicago to conduct an initial investigation into what happened in Biden's case.

- 'Congress has to investigate' -

The first cache of Biden documents was discovered a week before last year's midterm elections but only acknowledged by the White House on Monday, prompting accusations from Republicans of a cover-up and the unequal application of the law in the two cases.

"I think Congress has to investigate this," newly-installed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy told reporters at his first news conference.

"Here's an individual that's been in office for more than 40 years. Here's an individual that sat on '60 minutes,' that was so concerned about President Trump's documents, locked in behind, and now we find... a vice president keeping it for years out in the open in different locations."

Trump had earlier demanded on his Truth Social platform: "When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?"

Legal analysts have pointed to major difference between the cases however, particularly over the size of the huge hoard of documents Trump had stored at his residence after leaving the White House in 2021.

The FBI carting away some 11,000 papers after serving a search warrant in August, and Trump could face obstruction of justice charges after spending months resisting government efforts to recover his trove and his failure to comply with a subpoena demanding their return.

The White House, in contrast, says it has been "fully cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice" since the Biden discovery.

After the first batch of Biden documents was discovered at his former office at the Penn Biden Center think tank last November, lawyers turned them over to the National Archives, which handles all such materials, the White House counsel's office said.

Lawyers for Biden then scoured possible locations for any other stray documents.

Nevertheless, serious questions remain about when the second batch of documents was unearthed, who took both sets from the White House and if they have been accessed since Biden left the vice-presidency in 2017.

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