By Dareh Gregorian
The discovery of classified documents among Biden's papers is a bad look for the president, but the circumstances of the find are much different from those of the Trump case.
The discovery of classified documents among President Joe Biden's vice presidential papers in a Washington office has led to yowls by some Republicans who say there is an unfair double standard being applied to Donald Trump's stash of classified documents — but the circumstances of the finds are very different.
The uproar began Monday after the White House confirmed a CBS News report that a “small number of documents” with classified markings that appeared to be from the Obama administration had been found at a think tank tied to Biden.
The documents were discovered in a locked closet by Biden’s attorneys as they prepared to vacate office space at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a statement.
The University of Pennsylvania leased a suite of offices for the center in February 2018, including an office for Biden’s personal use when he was in Washington.
Some Republicans in Congress — and Trump — questioned why the FBI wasn't getting search warrants to see if Biden had more documents.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump posted on his Truth Social account.
While there is still much that is not known about the Biden documents, there are key differences between the two cases — as well as some similarities.
How the documents were discovered
The National Archives — which is supposed to receive all presidential records when a president or vice president leaves office — contacted Trump officials soon after he left office in 2021 to inform them that the agency believed some documents were missing and that the Archives needed them back.
After several months of back and forth, Trump sent 15 boxes of documents from his Mar-a-Lago estate to the archives in January of last year. Court papers show officials found classified documents in 14 of the 15 boxes, including 25 that were marked top secret. In all, there were 184 documents marked classified in the boxes.
More would be found later.
In the Biden case, Sauber said the National Archives was unaware of the missing documents and hadn't made any request to Biden for their return. He said the White House counsel's office notified Archives on the day the records were found, and officials there collected them the following day.
It’s unclear how many vice presidential records and classified documents were found in the office. Sauber said only that Biden’s personal attorneys were packing files when they found “what appear to be Obama-Biden Administration records, including a small number of documents with classified markings.” He did not describe the level of classification on the documents.
Two sources familiar with the matter said less than a dozen documents with classified markings were found at the office.
Justice Department investigation
In both cases, the Archives reported the discovery of classified documents to the Department of Justice.
When the Archives informed Trump's people early last year that it was going to hand the documents over to the intelligence community for a review of any potential damage to national security, Trump's team objected and asked for a temporary delay. The Archives granted Trump's first request but denied his second, court papers show.
The FBI later obtained information that Trump had more government documents and issued a subpoena for their return. In June, Trump's lawyers turned over a packet that included 38 classified documents, including 17 marked top secret. Trump's lawyers showed the agents the storage room where the documents had been held but refused to allow them to look into boxes that were still inside, according to court filings. They also gave investigators a declaration that a "diligent search was conducted" and that "all responsive documents had been turned over," government court filings show.
The FBI then learned Trump had not fully complied with the subpoena and still had more classified documents. They obtained a search warrant for his Mar-a-Lago property in August and found over 100 documents marked confidential, secret and top secret in the storage room and in Trump's office.
Trump later sought to slow the feds' investigation by asking for a special master to review the documents and demanded their return, claiming they had been declassified and were his personal property.
Another search for documents carried out later in the year at the behest of Trump’s attorneys turned up two more documents with classified markings at a Florida storage facility used by Trump near Mar-a-Lago, NBC reported last month. Those documents were turned over to the FBI, sources said.
In the Biden case, Sauber said that since the documents were found on Nov. 2, “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.”