Garland names special counsel to review classified documents found at Biden’s office, home

President Biden waving as he walks away from Marine One
A former U.S. attorney has been tapped to investigate whether “any person or entity violated the law” in connection with the classified records found in President Biden’s possession.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)

Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland on Thursday named a special counsel to investigate the unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents that were discovered at President Biden’s office and home.

Garland tapped the former U.S. attorney for Maryland, Robert Hur, to conduct the investigation and examine whether “any person or entity violated the law in connection with this matter.”

Appointed as a U.S. attorney by former President Trump, Hur previously served as a principal associate deputy attorney general. He is expected to begin work in the coming days.


Hur said in a statement that he “will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial, and dispassionate judgment.”

“I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor,” he continued, “and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service.”

A special counsel has substantial independence in conducting an investigation, but ultimately the decision on whether to prosecute is left to the attorney general. Hur’s appointment “underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability for particularly sensitive matters,” said Garland, who was appointed by Biden.

Documents with classification markings were found in two unsecured locations that Biden used after he served as vice president: the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington and his private residence in Wilmington, Del. The White House counsel’s office said Thursday that Biden’s home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., was also searched but that no classified documents were found.

Presidential records, including information created by or for the vice president, must be handed off to the National Archives the day a new president is sworn in. Several presidents have left the White House with a few things they shouldn’t have, and the National Archives had to retrieve them. Usually it’s treated as a misunderstanding and the items are returned without fanfare, but mishandling classified documents, which are typically tightly controlled by intelligence agencies, is a different matter.

A portrait of a man in a suit and tie, smiling
Robert Hur will serve as special counsel in the investigation of the classified documents found in President Biden’s possession.
(Department of Justice)

Garland said that the Justice Department was notified Nov. 4 that classified records found in an office of the Penn Biden Center had been handed over to the National Archives and Records Administration by the White House, and that on Nov. 9 the FBI began investigating their discovery. On Nov. 14, Garland asked Chicago U.S. Atty. John Lausch, another Trump appointee, to review the situation.

“That office was not authorized for storage of classified documents,” Garland said.

He said that on Dec. 20, Biden’s personal counsel informed Lausch that additional documents had been found in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington home. The FBI secured those documents, Garland said, and on Jan. 5, Lausch briefed Garland on his findings.

Garland said Thursday morning that Biden’s personal lawyer informed the Justice Department that another document had been found at the Wilmington property.

A senior Justice Department official said before Garland’s announcement Thursday that Lausch’s findings showed a special counsel would be necessary under agency regulations.

“This is not a decision he made lightly,” the official said. “The appointment of a special counsel in this matter is required.”

The move mirrors Garland’s decision to appoint special counsel Jack Smith to investigate documents seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home in Florida in August.


Since news of the Biden documents became public, Republicans have demanded that Garland appoint a special counsel, saying the president shouldn’t be treated differently from Trump. Few Republicans commented after Garland announced the appointment.

House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) has vowed to hold hearings on Biden’s handling of the documents.

The circumstances of the classified records held by Biden and Trump differ dramatically. Biden and his team turned documents over to authorities, while Trump withheld hundreds of classified records despite a subpoena instructing him to hand them over to the FBI.

The White House has largely characterized Biden’s retention of documents as 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,” Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a written statement.

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a news conference Thursday that Biden “did not know the records were there. He was surprised the records were there.”

Biden told reporters Thursday that he and his staff were cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation. He noted that the Wilmington documents were in a locked garage near his Corvette.


“As I said earlier this week, people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously,” Biden said. “I also said we’re cooperating fully, complete with the Justice Department’s review.

“My lawyers reviewed other places where documents ... from my time as vice president were stored and they finished the review last night. They discovered a small number of documents with classified markings in storage areas and file cabinets in my home and my personal library.”

The Justice Department “was immediately notified and the lawyers arranged for the [agency] to take possession of the [records],” Biden added. “So you’re going to see all of this unfold, I’m confident.”