Attorney General Merrick Garland determined that Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents merits further investigation, and on Thursday named a former Trump-era prosecutor as special counsel to probe the matter.
Robert Hur, who Donald Trump named as U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland from 2018 to 2021, will head up the investigation into how documents with classification markings ended up stored in Biden’s vacated Penn Biden Center office in Washington and a storage space in his personal garage in Wilmington, Del., Garland told reporters at the Justice Department on Thursday.
Hur’s work will be guided “only by the facts and the law,” Garland said, and Garland expects him to conduct the investigation in an “even-handed and urgent manner.” Garland said that after reviewing the information about Biden’s storage of classified documents, he determined “it was in the public interest to appoint a special counsel.”
The news is a political setback for Biden at a moment when the President had wanted to tout signs that inflation is easing and the jobs market remains strong. And it tarnishes Biden politically at a moment when Donald Trump, who has announced another run for the presidency in 2024, saw his support had weakened by the poor performance of election deniers in the midterms and his dinner with white supremacist Nick Fuentes and antisemitic rapper Kanye West.
While there are significant differences between the two cases, it also drew immediate parallels to a separate special counsel investigation into Trump’s possible mishandling of classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago last year. The investigation into Biden makes any potential decision to charge Trump for obstructing the Mar-a-Lago investigation more politically fraught. It also opens up another avenue for Republicans in the House to investigate Biden, and to keep the story of Biden’s classified documents in front of voters as Biden mulls formally announcing a reelection campaign.
Speaking at the White House during an event to showcase his economic policy, Biden was asked about the latest revelations that his lawyers recently found classified documents in his Wilmington home, as well as the documents found on Nov. 2 in his former D.C. office. “They discovered a small number of documents of markings in storage areas and file cabinets in my home and my personal library,” Biden said. The Department of Justice was “immediately notified,” Biden said, and his lawyers arranged for the federal government to take “immediate possession” of the sensitive materials.
Asked by Fox News reporter Peter Doocy what he was thinking, keeping classified materials in his garage next to his Corvette, Biden said, “My Corvette’s in a locked garage, ok? So it’s not like they’re sitting out on the street.”
Trump is under investigation for keeping classified documents in a storage area and his private office at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, and for allegedly obstructing the federal government’s efforts to investigate and retrieve those papers. In August, FBI agents got a warrant to search Trump’s residence at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, after federal officials had spent more than a year negotiating with Trump’s lawyers over the return of any government records he still possessed. Prosecutors said in court filings there was evidence that “efforts were likely taken” to obstruct the government’s investigation and that government records were “likely concealed and removed” at Mar-a-Lago.
In addition, Trump is also being investigated for his alleged role in trying to overturn the 2020 election and allegedly working with allies to send slates of fake electors to reverse Joe Biden’s electoral victory. On Nov. 18, Garland announced he was placing both investigations involving Trump under the supervision of special counsel Jack Smith. Smith will be making decisions on whether to bring charges against Trump, Garland said at the time.
Trump on Thursday called on Garland to “immediately end” the special counsel investigation into “anything related to me because I did everything right,” according to a message Trump posted on his social media site TruthSocial, and demanded Garland appoint a special counsel to investigate Biden “who hates Biden as much as Jack Smith hates me.”
Garland picked Hur to oversee the investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents, a fraught investigation into the Democratic president and Trump’s political rival. Hur had been a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Maryland and has a reputation as a hardworking career prosecutor who has held senior positions in the Department of Justice during both Democratic and Republican administrations.
Hur will take over the work started by Trump-appointed U.S. attorney in Chicago, John Lausch, who Garland chose to oversee the initial investigation into the classified documents found on Nov. 2 in Biden’s vacated office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington. Biden lawyers found classified materials there when they were cleaning the office out in November, the White House said, and “immediately” notified the National Archives. The National Archives then notified the Department of Justice. News of the discovery, made days before the midterm elections, was kept from public view until CBS News first reported it this week.
Biden’s personal lawyer told Lausch on Dec. 20 that additional classified documents were found at Biden’s home, Garland said. On Thursday morning, Biden’s legal team notified Lausch that another classified document was found there as well.
White House lawyer Richard Sauber said Thursday that Biden has cooperated with the Justice Department. “We have cooperated closely with the Justice Department throughout its review, and we will continue that cooperation with the Special Counsel,” Sauber said. “We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake.”
Biden is widely expected to run for reelection in 2024. He said in the fall that he would be discussing the decision over the winter break with his family and would be making a formal announcement sometime early this year. Months of high inflation and economic uncertainty had been a drag on Biden’s public support, but his poll numbers have been ticking up in recent weeks. His approval ratings have inched upward from the high 30s in July to the mid-40s, according to an average of polls conducted by FiveThirtyEight. News of a federal investigation into Biden is not how his political advisors would have chosen to start the year.