The White House on Jan. 11 dodged questions regarding why the public has only recently been informed about the discovery of classified documents at a former office of the President when they were found two months ago.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, in the first press briefing since news of the documents became public on Monday, defended the administration's actions while declining to answer how the documents came to be at the office.
"I know you all are going to have a lot of questions on this, but, at this time, I’m not going to go beyond what the president said yesterday," Jean-Pierre said, referring to Biden's comments on the matter while in Mexico on Wednesday.
"I’m not going to go beyond what my colleagues from the White House counsel shared with many of you as well on Monday. ... I want to be prudent here and make sure that my colleagues really, truly handle this issue."
When pressed by reporters as to why it took so long for the discovery of the documents to be disclosed, Jean-Pierre said: "This is under review by the Department of Justice."
"It’s under review. I’m going to let the DOJ [Department of Justice] do their process. I’m just not going to get ahead of it," she said, adding that the White House is "going to be limited on what we can say here."
The press secretary also reiterated comments made by White House attorney Richard Sauber, who said on Monday that Biden's lawyers, after discovering the documents inside a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, notified the White House Counsel’s Office of their existence who in turn alerted the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) of the discovery.
'They Did the Right Thing'The agency retrieved the materials the following day.
"They did the right thing by turning over the documents to the archives," Jean-Pierre said. "That’s what they did. Once they realized that they had them and they were there."
She declined to answer when questioned about whether more documents may come to light in the future.
Under U.S. law, presidential and vice presidential records must be turned over to the NARA for preservation when a president leaves office.
Attorney Sauber said on Monday that the classified documents were found at the Penn Biden Center on Nov. 2, 2022, just days before the midterm elections, but their existence was not disclosed until nearly two months later.
During a visit to Mexico on Tuesday, Biden said he was "surprised to learn" that the classified documents had been discovered inside the office where he previously worked.
Biden made the comments at a press conference after meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador at a trilateral summit.
Biden 'Surprised' to Learn About Classified Documents"They immediately called the Archives … turned them over to the Archives and 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 of his lawyers.
Biden added that he was not aware of what was contained in the documents adding that his lawyer have "not suggested I ask what documents they were."
The president also noted that the administration is cooperating fully with the DOJ's review of the matter.
Since the announcement regarding the discovery of the documents was made on Monday, Republicans have vowed to launch a probe into the matter, which has come to light roughly five months after the FBI’s raid of former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, during which investigators said they seized over 11,000 documents and materials, including around 100 documents marked classified or top secret.
Trump is currently being investigated by the DOJ over his handling of the documents.
"For months, NARA failed to disclose to Committee Republicans or the American public that President Biden—after serving as Vice President—stored highly classified documents in a closet at his personal office. NARA learned about these documents days before the 2022 midterm elections and did not alert the public that President Biden was potentially violating the law. Meanwhile, NARA instigated a public and unprecedented FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago—former President Trump’s home—to retrieve presidential records," Comer said.
"NARA’s inconsistent treatment of recovering classified records held by former President Trump and President Biden raises questions about political bias at the agency," the Chairman wrote.