WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (AP): President Joe Biden’s decision allowing the FBI to search his home in Delaware last week is laying him open to fresh negative attention and embarrassment following the earlier discoveries of classified documents at that home and a former office.
But it’s a legal and political calculation that aides hope will pay off in the long run as he prepares to seek reelection.
The remarkable, nearly 13-hour search by FBI agents of the sitting president’s Wilmington home is the latest political black eye for Biden, who promised to restore propriety to the office after the tumultuous tenure of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
But with his actions, Biden is doing more than simply complying with federal investigators assigned to look into the discovery of the records.
The president is aiming to show that, unlike Trump, he never intended to retain classified materials — a key distinction that experts say diminishes the risks of criminal liability.
His attorneys have said full access was granted to the home “in the interest of moving the process forward as expeditiously as possible.”
“If I was a lawyer and I represented the president of the United States and I wanted to show, ‘I am being fully cooperative, and I do care to be projecting transparency to the American public, and I do take this seriously,’ I think this is the advice I would give as well,” said Mary McCord, a former senior Justice Department national security official.
That’s not to say she approves of his handling of the documents.
“I think it’s wrong that he had those documents there,” she said.
“It shows lapses at the end of the administration,” when Biden was completing his time as vice president under Barack Obama.
Biden’s personal attorneys first discovered classified materials on Nov. 2, a week before the midterm elections, as they were clearing out an office Biden had used at the Penn Biden Centre in Washington.
Since that initial discovery, Biden’s team has adopted an accommodating approach to the investigation, even if they haven’t been completely transparent in public.
They didn’t acknowledge the first discovery before the elections, though they swiftly notified the National Archives of the discovery, returned the documents the day after they were found and coordinated subsequent searches and discoveries with the Department of Justice.
They also are not standing in the way of interviews of staff, including Kathy Chung, Biden’s executive assistant when he was vice president, who helped oversee the packing of boxes that were taken to the Penn Biden Centre.
She feels some responsibility given her position, but she had “absolutely” no knowledge of classified documents being packed, according to a person familiar with her thinking.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
Biden himself has said he was surprised the documents were in his possession. Last Thursday, frustrated at all the focus, he told reporters: “There’s no there there.”
“I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there.”
It all fits a theme: Biden and his aides maintain the document mishandling was not intentional.
As far as Biden’s possible legal exposure goes, the question of intention is critical: Federal law does not allow anyone to store classified documents in an unauthorised location, but it’s only a prosecutable crime when someone is found to have “knowingly” removed the documents from a proper place.