Anger and frustration were the feelings expressed by bipartisan members of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Jan. 25 over a lack of access to the classified documents found in the homes of President Joe Biden, former President Trump, and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Speaking with reporters at the Capitol after a classified briefing with National Intelligence Director Avril Haines, Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Vice Chairman Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) asserted that the Biden administration had been blocking their oversight efforts.
“It is our responsibility to make sure that we, in the role of the intelligence oversight, know if there’s been any intelligence compromised,” Warner noted.
Members of Congress have sought access to the materials—or at least a risk assessment detailing the information they contained—since the discovery of documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last summer. But they say the administration has objected, arguing they can’t provide that access as two special counsels at the Justice Department (DOJ) are investigating Trump and Biden’s mishandlings of the documents.
Rubio, however, said the administration’s position was “untenable,” noting, “The information we’re asking for has no bearing whatsoever or would interfere in no way with a criminal investigation.”
It also defies precedent, the senators argued, as during the DOJ’s Russia investigation, committees were given access to the classified materials that were part of then-special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.
Warner, noting that there was broad agreement among the committee members on the matter, added, “Literally every member of the committee, without exception, said this won’t stand.”
One potential means of retaliation the committee has at its disposal is the withholding of funds from the intelligence community until access to the classified materials is granted—a move Rubio hinted at earlier this week.
“I’m not in the business of threats right now,” he said. “But I’m just saying every year this committee has to authorize how money is spent in [Biden’s] agencies.”
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) built upon that Wednesday, suggesting that the committee could also block consideration of Biden’s nominees.
“Until the administration stops stonewalling Congress,” he said, “there will be pain as a consequence for them.”
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence declined to comment on the senators’ remarks.
In August, the FBI raided Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, residence, collecting boxes of classified materials that had been stored there since the former president left office. Three months later, in November, special counsel Jack Smith was appointed to lead the DOJ’s investigation of the matter.
That same month, classified documents were discovered at Biden’s former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, and in December, additional documents were found at his Wilmington, Delaware, residence. But neither discovery was made public until Jan. 9, when the media broke the story and the White House confirmed it.
Since then, several other caches of documents have been found at Biden’s home, with the most recent discovery resulting from the DOJ’s Jan. 20 search of the property.
In a statement, Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer advised: “DOJ took possession of materials it deemed within the scope of its inquiry, including six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials, some of which were from the President’s service in the Senate and some of which were from his tenure as Vice President. DOJ also took for further review personally handwritten notes from the vice-presidential years.”
The search followed the Jan. 12 appointment of special counsel Robert Hur to lead the DOJ’s probe of that case.
As of yet, a special counsel has not been appointed in the case of Pence, whose lawyers reported that they had found “a small number” of classified documents at the former vice president’s Indiana home in a Jan. 18 letter to the National Archives and Records Administration.
According to Pence’s legal team, the documents were discovered on Jan. 16 after he engaged outside counsel to conduct a review of the records stored at his residence. Pence elected to do the search after learning of the classified documents that had been discovered at Biden’s Delaware residence.
In his Wednesday remarks, Warner stressed the gravity of all three investigations, holding that they were evidence of a problem that has been “bubbling for some time.”
“We’ve got a broken system,” he said, “and we’ve got to fix this for all folks leaving government, and for those inside government, on how they deal with documents.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.