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Biden said he was ‘surprised’ about classified documents

Biden said he doesn’t know what was in the documents and was told, ‘don’t ask’

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President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Washington.

President Joe Biden speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Thursday, Jan. 5, 2023, in Washington. Biden said he is “surprised” to hear government documents were discovered at his former Washington, D.C., office.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

President Joe Biden said he was “surprised” classified government documents were found at his former Washington, D.C., office when asked by reporters.

“I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn there were any government records that were taken there to that office, but I don’t know what’s in the documents,” Biden said, during a press conference in Mexico City with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Tuesday.

Biden said his lawyers were clearing out the office at the University of Pennsylvania’s Biden Penn Center in Washington, D.C., when they discovered the documents and he said they advised him not to ask what the documents were.

“They turned over the boxes to the (National) Archives and we’re cooperating fully with the review which I hope will be finished soon and there will be more detail at that time,” Biden said.

Republicans respond

Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, called for an “immediate review and damage assessment” in a letter to the Director of National Intelligence. Turner wrote that Biden could be in “potential violation of laws protecting national security, including the Espionage Act and Presidential Records Act.”

Republicans including Rep. James Comer of Tennessee accused the Justice Department of having a “two-tiered” justice system for their handling of Biden and former President Donald Trump. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called for Biden to be impeached.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the incoming House Judiciary Committee chair, tweeted, “Look how President Trump was treated when it came to so-called ‘classified’ documents at his home. Now look at how President Biden is being treated for having classified documents at the Biden Center.”

Trump posted on his social media site, “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?”

Comparisons with Trump

About 10 documents from Biden’s time as vice president were turned over to the National Archives. The documents were found on Nov. 2, 2022, and turned over the next day, Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a statement to CBS News.

“The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the Archives,” Sauber said. “Since that discovery, the president’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives.”

About 300 documents with classified markings were recovered from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home last year. The National Archives believed some documents were missing that should have been turned over after Trump left office, and the FBI searched Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 after a search-and-seizure warrant was approved by a judge. The search came after attorneys for Trump incorrectly said all documents had been handed over to the Archive, according to The Associated Press.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement to NBC News that lawmakers should be briefed about the situation.

“Our system of classification exists in order to protect our most important national security secrets, and we expect to be briefed on what happened both at Mar-a-Lago and at the Biden office as part of our constitutional oversight obligations,” Warner said.