Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday provided the most detailed timeline yet of the Justice Department’s investigation into the discoveries of classified documents at President Biden’s home and office following his vice presidency.
Garland at a news conference announced he appointed Robert Hur, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney, as special counsel to lead the investigation. The announcement came after the Justice Department began looking into a discovery of documents bearing classified markings roughly two months ago. Biden’s team has since made two additional discoveries of classified documents.
The discoveries drew comparisons to the FBI’s search of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property in August, when investigators seized classified documents as part of a broader probe into the potential mishandling of the materials. Garland announced a separate special counsel in that investigation once Trump formally announced his 2024 presidential campaign.
Days prior to that appointment, Garland said a Justice Department prosecutor first learned about Biden’s classified documents on the evening of Nov. 4 from the National Archives’s Office of the Inspector General.
Garland said the Archives informed the prosecutor that the White House had notified the Archives that they found documents bearing classification markings at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, which is located in Washington, D.C.
“That office was not authorized for storage of classified documents,” Garland said, adding that the documents were subsequently secured in an Archives facility.
Biden acknowledged the documents’ existence at the office after it was first reported by CBS News, but the president suggested he was previously unaware of their presence.
“I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there were any government records that were taken there to that office,” Biden said on Tuesday. “But I don’t know what’s in the documents. My lawyers have not suggested I ask what documents they were.”
Garland said the FBI commenced an assessment on Nov. 9, one day after the midterm elections, to determine whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of federal law.
Then, on Nov. 14, Garland appointed U.S. Attorney John Lausch to conduct an initial investigation to inform whether Garland should appoint a special counsel in the Biden case. A special counsel has more autonomy to conduct investigations than a regular federal attorney.
“I selected him to conduct the initial investigation because I was confident his experience would ensure that it would be done professionally and expeditiously,” Garland said of Lausch, who stood behind Garland at Thursday’s briefing.
As Lausch proceeded with his investigation, Biden’s personal counsel on Dec. 20 informed Lausch that additional documents with classification markings were found in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington, Del., residence, Garland said.
He indicated those documents were found among other records related to Biden’s tenure as vice president, and the FBI later secured the classified documents.
Garland also on Thursday revealed Lausch ended his initial investigation one week ago and concluded a special counsel appointment was warranted.
Federal regulations provide that the attorney general should appoint a special counsel when an investigation presents a conflict of interest, and if it is in the public interest for a special counsel to take charge of the investigation.
Garland indicated that Justice Department officials subsequently proceeded to identify a special counsel and ultimately landed on Hur, who Trump nominated in 2017 to serve as U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. The Senate confirmed him by voice vote.
Garland said he signed the order appointing Hur earlier on Thursday, authorizing him to investigate whether any person or entity violated the law in connection with the matter of Biden’s classified documents.
Also on Thursday, Garland said Biden’s personal counsel called Lausch to inform him that an additional document bearing a classification marking was found at Biden’s Wilmington residence.