WASHINGTON — The White House won’t say whether President Biden will sit down with special counsel Robert Hur‘s team to discuss his handling of classified documents found at his Wilmington, Del., home and at his former DC office — as key questions about the case remain unanswered.
Biden seemed to hear but didn’t answer a reporter’s query about a potential interview while seated in the Oval Office next to Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte — and moments later, White House spokesman Ian Sams declined to commit to Biden personally explaining his actions to investigators.
“Would the president sit for an interview with the special counsel if he is asked to?” Wall Street Journal reporter Sabrina Siddiqui asked Sams on a Zoom call with reporters.
“We’re not gonna get ahead of that process with the special counsel and speculate on what they may or may not want or ask for,” Sams replied. “And so I’m just not going to comment on that at this time and would refer you over to DOJ on their process and their thinking in terms of how to conduct their own investigation.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre also refused to promise Biden would speak with investigators, telling CBS reporter Weijia Jiang at her regular briefing Tuesday afternoon, “you’re asking a question that should go to the White House Counsel’s Office.”
While taking questions from reporters, Sams insisted that the White House was trying to be “transparent and informative” — even though the discovery of classified documents at Biden’s one time office at the Penn Biden Center wasn’t publicly disclosed for more than two months and was followed by incomplete initial revelations about the Delaware discoveries.
CNN reporter MJ Lee pressed Sams on why Biden’s personal attorneys were packing up his former Penn Biden Center office, which opened in 2018. Biden’s staffers reportedly found a cache of 10 documents there Nov. 2, including documents from the Obama-Biden administration related to Iran, Ukraine and the UK, some of which were marked “top secret.”
Lee asked why “lawyers were involved in packing up boxes” and “were they specifically searching for documents?”
“The president’s personal lawyers were basically cleaning out the office to prepare to vacate it when they came across this,” Sams said. “I think it’s important to note this is the president of the United States and these are personal materials and his trusted aides were doing the work of cleaning out the office and so I think that that’s self explanatory.”
It was unclear if the “personal lawyers” and “trusted aides” Sams referenced were the same people. It was also not clear why the office was only being cleaned out in November of last year when, according to the White House, Biden had not used it since announcing his run for president in the spring of 2019.
Reuters reporter Jeff Mason unsuccessfully sought clarity from Sams on the volume and character of records, such as whether they pertain to first son Hunter Biden, who involved his father in an array of international business relationships — including in China, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Russia and Ukraine — during Biden’s vice presidency and the years that followed.
“Can you clarify for us how many documents we’re talking about? There have been reports about fewer than a dozen at the beginning … Can you say, is it roughly 20?” Mason asked, before adding, “Can you give us any sense at all of what is in the materials because it’s certainly possible that it’s schedules or something that may have been classified six years ago that doesn’t really matter now. On the other hand, it could also be the things that Republicans are beginning to raise questions about if it’s related to Hunter.”
Sams declined to answer either point.
“In terms of contents in terms of numbers, in terms of the specifics related to the materials itself, you know, we just can’t address that because these have been handed over to the proper authorities,” he said. “And these will be part of the ongoing investigation by the Justice Department.”
“We may not know exact numbers, exact contents, etc., because they’ve immediately been handed over to the Justice Department,” Sams added.
“Should we not be surprised if more classified documents are revealed?” National Public Radio’s Franco Ordoñez asked.
Sams replied in part, “I don’t want to get ahead of investigative decision-making that’s being done by the department.”
“These are going to be decisions that are up to the special counsel or how to conduct their own investigation,” Sams said. “We are fully cooperating with that process. The president is fully cooperating with that process.”
Later Tuesday, Jean-Pierre laughed off AFP reporter Sebastian Smith’s question about whether Biden was personally searching his Delaware home for classified document and fended off an inquiry by Jiang about how the White House could claim the special counsel was working independently when Biden attorneys are the ones looking for and turning over records.
“Is he physically joining in the search for these things, rummaging around these boxes in the garage and wherever else?” Smith asked, to which Jean-Pierre sarcastically said, “Are you listening to the question you’re asking me?” before referring “specific questions” to the White House counsel’s office.
The White House disclosed on Jan. 9 that classified documents dating to Biden’s vice presidency were found at the Penn Biden Center. The president admitted Thursday that an unspecified number of classified documents were found in his Wilmington garage next to his prized Corvette plus another document in a nearby room. On Saturday, the White House disclosed another five documents were found Thursday at the home.
“We’re endeavoring to be as transparent and informative to you all, to the media, to the public as we can consistent with respecting the integrity of an ongoing Justice Department investigation — a Justice Department investigation that we’re being fully cooperative with,” Sams said Tuesday.
Former President Donald Trump’s handling of classified documents also is under investigation by a special counsel, Jack Smith, following a dramatic Aug. 8 FBI raid on his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla.
Special prosecutors are bad news for sitting presidents and often end up investigating matters outside their initial scope. In the 1990s, Ken Starr started off investigating then-President Bill Clinton’s real estate deals and ultimately uncovered his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, resulting in Clinton’s impeachment for perjury and abuse of power.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump colluded with Russia in the 2020 election produced no proof that Trump and the Kremlin conspired against Democrat Hillary Clinton, but resulted in a steady stream of leaks damaging to Trump over two years while turning up evidence that the then-president may have criminally obstructed investigators, for which he ultimately was not charged.
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