- President Joe Biden previously called out the former president for holding onto classified documents.
- On January 12, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate.
- Here is a timeline detailing the chain of events.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on January 12 that he was taking the extraordinary step of appointing a special counsel to investigate the sitting president and those around him for mishandling classified information dating back to President Joe Biden’s time as vice president.
Garland’s swift announcement came after news on Wednesday that a second batch of classified documents was found on Biden’s property.
The first set of documents was found in November, but publicized earlier this week, as former President Donald Trump came under fire for not handing over classified documents to the National Archives.
There so far appears to be a difference between Biden’s and Trump’s handling of the classified documents — such as a drastically higher number of documents that Trump claims he took purposefully and the fact that Biden’s office is reportedly cooperating with the National Archives.
Here, a timeline lays out Biden’s involvement with the classified documents — and how it sometimes overlapped with the turmoil around Trump’s classified documents probe.
Mid-2017: Biden starts working occasionally at the Penn Biden Center
Richard Sauber, the special counsel to the president, said he “periodically” worked at the Penn Biden Center, a nonprofit think tank in DC run by the University of Pennsylvania and the location where attorneys eventually found the classified documents, from mid-2017 to 2020.
Summer and fall 2022: Biden calls out Trump amid probe into classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago
The DOJ is investigating former President Donald Trump for violating three federal laws, including the Espionage Act, after news broke that he relocated roughly 700 pages of classified documents from his presidency to his Mar-a-Lago home.
The former president told his Truth Social followers that the FBI raided his home on August 8, 2022. The raid came six months after the National Archives and Records Administration confirmed that Trump had taken documents to his home at the Florida resort and after more than a year’s worth of requests for the return of the documents.
In September, President Joe Biden commented on the matter: “How that could possibly happen, how anyone could be that irresponsible.”
November 2, 2022: First batch of classified documents found at Biden’s office
Months later, Biden’s team discovered about 10 classified documents at Penn Biden Center, a nonprofit think tank in DC that Biden started in collaboration with the University of Pennsylvania. Biden used the office from his time as vice president up until 2020, his special counsel would say in a later statement.
The documents were immediately turned over to the National Archives, his counsel said, but it wasn’t for another two months that the public would learn about the existence of these documents.
November 9: The FBI assessed whether classified information had been mishandled
Attorney General Merrick Garland said the review was “consistent with standard protocols.”
November 14: Garland taps a Trump-appointed US attorney to investigate
Garland appoints US Attorney John Lausch to “conduct an initial investigation.” The attorney general said this early part of the probe was done to inform his decision on whether a special counsel would be needed. Lausch, who works in Chicago, was allowed to remain in his post under the new administration.
Garland’s decision to ask a Trump holdover to lead the investigation dovetails with how the attorney general has handled US attorney David Weiss’ continuing investigation of Hunter Biden. Weiss’ probe into the president’s son began in 2018.
December 20: Biden’s lawyer tells Lausch that additional documents were found in the president’s garage in Delaware
Garland said that just before the end of the year, Biden’s personal attorney told Lausch that a review had uncovered more classified documents. This time additional classified material was found in Biden’s garage at his private residence in Wilmington, Delaware.
Like the previous documents, the information was all related to Biden’s time as vice president. Garland said that the FBI then went to Biden’s house and “secured those documents.”
January 5, 2023: Lausch tells Garland that they need to appoint a special counsel
Lausch briefed the attorney general “on the results of his initial investigation,” as Garland would later tell reporters. The attorney general said that at the time Lausch urged Garland to use his power to appoint a special counsel to further investigate the mishandling of classified information.
While Lausch continued to lead the probe, Garland and the department moved to find a special counsel. Ultimately, they settled on former US Attorney Robert Hur. Like Lausch, Hur was also appointed by Trump to be a US attorney.
January 9, 2023: Announcement of first batch of documents made public
“The discovery of these documents was made by the President’s attorneys,” Sauber said in a statement on Monday. “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 records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland has entrusted a US attorney based in Chicago to examine whether a full investigation into the matter is necessary, CBS News reported.
January 9: Trump uses recent findings to slam the FBI and Biden’s administration
Trump called out his political rival on his Truth Social platform on the evening of January 9: “When is the FBI going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?”
“As soon as his lawyers realized these documents were there, they did the right thing,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday. “And they turned over the documents to the archivist.”
She added that Biden’s team “is cooperating fully” with the Justice Department.
January 11: Reports emerge about a second batch of documents
“He was surprised by this, he definitely, truly, respects the process here,” Jean-Pierre said of Biden at Wednesday’s news briefing. “He takes classified documents very seriously.”
According to Jean-Pierre, the content of the newly discovered documents are “something that the president doesn’t even know and I’m just going to leave it there.”
January 12: Garland appoints a special counsel to investigate the mishandling of classified information
Shortly after the White House confirmed news of the second batch of documents, Garland announced the special counsel. He told reporters that his decision was rooted in the “extraordinary circumstances” at play. The attorney general also added that Lausch had asked only to lead the initial investigation due to his intention to leave the department for the private sector.
“This appointment underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably only guided by the facts and the law,” Garland told reporters during a rare news conference.
January 14: White House says more classified documents were found in Biden’s home
Additional pages of classified documents were found in Biden’s Wilmington home in a storage room next to the garage, The New York Times reported.
By then, a total of six pages of documents with classification markings were found, Sauber said in a statement.
January 21: DOJ finds 6 more pages of classified documents in Biden’s Home
Federal investigators searched Biden’s Wilmington home on Friday and found half a dozen classified documents, according to Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer.
Bauer said in a statement on Saturday that the search was voluntary and that some of the items that were seized date back to Biden’s time in the Senate and as vice president.