Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday provided the most detailed timeline yet of the Justice Department’s discovery and review of classified documents found at an office belonging to President Biden and materials found at his Wilmington, Del., home dating back from the time he was vice president.
Garland announced he has appointed Robert Hur, a former U.S. attorney who was nominated by former President Trump, as special counsel to lead the investigation. The attorney general said he had informed designated members of Congress of the appointment.
Here is a timeline of events provided of when and how the classified documents were discovered:
CBS News reported on Monday that on Nov. 2, roughly 10 documents were discovered at a Washington, D.C., office belonging to Biden while he served as an honorary professor for the University of Pennsylvania from 2017 to 2019, when he declared his candidacy for presidency.
The findings came just six days before the crucial 2022 midterm elections, the timing of which the White House has not yet addressed, stressing that the matter is under review. CBS’s report was the first time the public was made aware of the discovery months prior.
Biden’s counsel says that his attorneys handed the documents over to the National Archives the following morning after alerting the agency of the discovery. The Archives took possession of the materials and has since referred the matter to the Justice Department for further investigation.
“The White House is cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice regarding the discovery of what appear to be Obama-Biden Administration records, including a small number of documents with classified markings,” Biden special counsel Richard Sauber said in a statement following the CBS News report.
A Justice Department prosecutor first learns of the documents from the National Archives Office of the Inspector General, Garland said Thursday.
Garland said the Archives informed the prosecutor that the White House had notified the Archives of the documents found at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, which is located in Washington, D.C.
“That office was not authorized for storage of classified documents,” Garland said, adding that the documents were subsequently secured in an Archives facility.
Garland said the FBI commenced an assessment, under what he called “standard protocols to understand whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of federal law.”
That assessment began the day after the 2022 midterm elections, considered to be a crucial test of Biden’s political clout as Democrats faced losing both chambers of Congress.
Garland assigns Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney John Lausch of Illinois to conduct an initial investigation to inform whether Garland should appoint a special counsel in the Biden case. A special counsel has more autonomy to conduct investigations than a regular federal attorney.
“I selected him to conduct the initial investigation because I was confident his experience would ensure that it would be done professionally and expeditiously,” Garland said of Lausch, who stood by Garland at Thursday’s briefing.
As Lausch proceeded with his investigation, Biden’s personal counsel on Dec. 20 informed Lausch that additional documents with classification markings were found in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington, Del., residence, Garland said.
He indicated those documents were found among other records related to Biden’s tenure as vice president, and the FBI later secured the classified documents.
Garland says Lausch ended his initial investigation one week ago and concluded a special counsel appointment was warranted.
Federal regulations provide that the attorney general should appoint a special counsel when an investigation presents a conflict of interest and if it is in the public interest for a special counsel to take charge of the investigation.
Garland indicated that Justice Department officials subsequently proceeded to identify a special counsel and ultimately landed on Hur, whom Trump nominated in 2017 to serve as U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland.
Garland said Lausch was unable to take on any longer-term assignments on the matter because he planned to leave the department early this year.
Before Garland spoke to reporters on Thursday, he signed an order appointing Hur as special counsel that authorizes him to investigate whether any person or entity violated the law in connection with the matter of Biden’s classified documents.
Also on Thursday, Garland said Biden’s personal counsel called Lausch to inform him that an additional document bearing a classification marking was found at Biden’s Wilmington residence.
The discovery of a second batch of documents was first reported by NBC News.
Following Garland’s briefing, Sauber released another statement calling the matter a “mistake.”
“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,” Sauber said.
Federal investigators searched Biden’s Wilmington home again as part of the ongoing investigation into how classified materials ended up there. The search was done in cooperation with Biden’s legal team, which was present for the search.
It lasted roughly 13 hours and turned up six more documents with classified markings, Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, said in a statement released Jan. 21. Bauer said the search was not made public at the time to protect the integrity of the investigation.
Investigators took the classified documents, as well as as “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,” Bauer said. “DOJ also took for further review personally handwritten notes from the vice-presidential years.”
The FBI searched Biden’s home in Rehoboth, Del., as part of its investigation into how classified documents ended up at Biden’s Wilmington home and his old Washington, D.C., office.
Bob Bauer, an attorney for Biden, said the search was done with the cooperation of the president’s team. It lasted roughly four hours and did not turn up any documents with classified markings.
“Consistent with the process in Wilmington, the DOJ took for further review some materials and handwritten notes that appear to relate to his time as Vice President,” Bauer said in a statement.
No classified documents had previously been found at Biden’s Rehoboth home.
Updated 2/2/2023 at 1:45 p.m.