The White House on Monday defended itself from growing criticism after an FBI search Friday at President Joe Biden’s personal residence yielded yet more classified documents, by saying that the administration is cooperating with authorities.
On Monday, White House spokesperson Ian Sams stressed that the FBI search of Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home was a “voluntary, proactive offer by the president’s personal lawyers.”
The new discovery adds to a continuing Department of Justice investigation into Biden’s handling of sensitive material, and has drawn growing criticism – even from Biden’s Democratic party. Senators Dick Durbin and Joe Manchin both leveled barbs against the president over the weekend, with Durbin saying Biden should be “embarrassed” and Manchin calling the president “irresponsible.”
Biden’s lawyers say they first found documents with classified markings in early November, in a D.C. office he used after he left the vice presidency. They have not said why they did not openly announce that discovery, informing relevant authorities but not the public. They then found more documents in December and January in Biden’s Wilmington home. Friday’s FBI search of that same home, which took 13 hours, yielded still more, said White House lawyer Richard Sauber in a statement released Saturday. He said those documents were immediately turned over to the Department of Justice.
Throughout, the White House has tried to draw a distinction between Biden’s handling of documents and that of his predecessor Donald Trump, who did not cooperate with requests for the materials he took when he left office.
“It underscores how seriously he’s taking this issue that he would proactively and voluntarily disclose to [the Department of Justice] these findings as soon as they occur and that he would take the step of giving access to the home to DOJ to do an exhaustive search of the premises,” Sams told reporters.
Sams declined, for the second consecutive week, to answer specific questions: Exactly how many documents were found? Will there be more searches of other properties Biden has used? Who pays the president’s lawyers? What’s in the documents and does the president know what their contents are?
And White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, for the second week, faced blistering questions from varied U.S. and international media organizations.
“When you found out that the FBI located even more classified materials in Wilmington, which four-letter word did you use?” asked a reporter from the right-leaning FOX news network.
Jean-Pierre responded to that with a laugh. But on other, more serious questions, she referred reporters to White House Counsel and to Justice Department officials. Yet another question she did not answer, for two consecutive briefings, is whether she remains capable of steering the White House’s communications on the matter. Critics have accused the administration of not being transparent, and reporters have asked for White House lawyers to appear before them in public to take questions.
Sams, who represents the White House Counsel’s office, told reporters in an invitation-only conference call that the administration wants to let the investigation proceed without the appearance of interference.
“Throughout this process, we’ve tried to give you guys public information as it’s appropriate, consistent with that ongoing investigation, to respect the integrity of that investigation, because again, the president has been very clear going all the way back to the campaign,” he said. “He sees the Justice Department as independent. Very important to keep them independent, to not influence their decision making.”
And he took aim at the media’s unrelenting demands for information.
“I know for a lot of you guys who have been covering this for the last few years, especially, that may be a foreign concept,” he said. “But I think that the American people see it for what it is, which is the president respecting the appropriate entity who’s doing an investigation and ensuring that they have the independence they need to conduct that investigation.”
A new poll, conducted over the weekend, found that 77% of Americans believe that Donald Trump acted inappropriately in his handling of classified documents; 64% believe the same of Biden. But, when asked which case was more serious, the largest group of people polled – 43% — said Trump’s actions were a bigger concern.
Trump seems to be using the Biden saga to minimize the severity of his actions, posting to his social media account over the weekend: “They created this Documents mess for themselves by being so totally DERANGED about me, and I did NOTHING WRONG!!!”
An FBI search of Trump’s Florida home last year yielded about 300 documents of various levels of classification. That investigation is ongoing.