Justice Department Probes Classified Documents Found in Biden’s Personal Office

Penn Biden Center held classified intelligence memos on Ukraine and Iran

(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
January 10, 2023

The Justice Department is investigating classified documents discovered at President Joe Biden’s office at the University of Pennsylvania.

Biden’s attorneys found "a small number" of classified documents at the university in early November, the White House said Monday. According to CNN, the documents include intelligence memos related to Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom. The White House said the records, which date from Biden's stint as vice president, were discovered in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, which Biden formed in 2017.

While the White House tried to downplay the discovery, Republicans are asking the Justice Department to shed more light on the probe, especially in light of the special counsel investigation into former president Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents at his residence in Florida.

"President Biden has stated that taking classified documents from the White House is ‘irresponsible,'" said Rep. James Comer (R., Ky.), the chairman of the House Oversight Committee. "Under the Biden Administration, the Department of Justice and National Archives have made compliance with the Presidential Records Act a top priority."

"We expect the same treatment for President Biden, who has apparently inappropriately maintained classified documents in an insecure setting for several years," added Comer.

Republicans are likely to question why the White House waited two months—until after the midterm election—to announce discovery of the documents. Comer and other House Republicans in 2021 asked the University of Pennsylvania for any documents related to foreign funding for the Penn Biden Center, the Washington Free Beacon reported. The Republicans noted a surge in Chinese donations to the University of Pennsylvania in recent years and questioned whether any of the money went to Biden’s think tank.

The Justice Department has also investigated Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings in Ukraine and China. Biden served as a consultant for a Ukrainian energy firm, Burisma Holdings, while his father was vice president. Joe and Hunter Biden in 2017 shared a Washington, D.C., office with executives from CEFC China Energy, a Chinese energy conglomerate, according to emails from Hunter Biden’s abandoned laptop.

Republicans have said that the younger Biden’s business dealings posed a national security threat. It is unclear whether Hunter Biden had any involvement in the Penn Biden Center’s operations. But according to emails from his laptop, he attended a meeting in 2016 with his father, his White House aides, and Amy Gutmann, the University of Pennsylvania president who oversaw the launch of the Penn Biden Center.

"The Guttman [sic] mtg is a must attend for me per Dad," Hunter Biden wrote to his business partner on April 13, 2016.

Biden tapped Gutmann to serve as ambassador to Germany. Several longtime Biden allies worked at the Penn Biden Center. Steve Ricchetti, who serves as Biden’s White House counselor, was managing director of the Penn Biden Center in 2019. Michael Carpenter, who succeeded Ricchetti as managing director, is Biden’s ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

According to CBS News, Attorney General Merrick Garland assigned John Lausch, the U.S. attorney for Chicago, to determine how the records wound up at the Penn Biden Center. Lausch, a Trump appointee, is in the preliminary stages of the inquiry and could potentially recommend the appointment of a special counsel.

White House attorney Richard Sauber said the documents "were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the archives."

"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 documents are appropriately in the possession of the archives," Sauber said.

The White House declined a request for additional information about the documents.