White House efforts to contain a burgeoning crisis surrounding President Biden’s potentially illegal mishandling of classified documents became more difficult after law enforcement seized more materials from his residence over the weekend, spurring criticism within his own party.
The condemnation from Democrats underscores fear that the scandal has begun to overshadow Mr. Biden’s presidency and will loom over his expected 2024 campaign launch.
Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, called Mr. Biden’s handling of classified materials “unacceptable.”
“Well, I’m concerned. There’s a standard we follow when it comes to members of Congress and classified information,” Mr. Durbin, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “To think that any of them ended up in boxes in storage one place or the other is just unacceptable.”
Centrist Democrat Joe Manchin III of West Virginia went a step further by saying Mr. Biden “should have a lot of regrets” about the situation.
“It’s unbelievable how this can happen. It’s totally irresponsible,” Mr. Manchin said on “State of the Union.”
SEE ALSO: White House hoped talks with DOJ would keep public from knowing about classified documents
Sen. Christopher A. Coons, Delaware Democrat, sought to downplay the matter. “I also don’t think that this is an issue that’s keeping Americans up at night. I think they’re worried about much more day-to-day things like inflation, prices at the pump, prescription drug prices,” Mr. Coons said on ABC’s “This Week.”
An ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday revealed that 64% of respondents think Mr. Biden inappropriately handled classified documents, compared with 34% who said they think Mr. Biden handled the documents appropriately.
The poll was conducted before Bob Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, announced Saturday that federal investigators had found more classified documents at the president’s home in Wilmington, Delaware. Mr. Bauer said officials seized six more classified documents from the residence, including some from Mr. Biden’s time in the Senate.
The same poll found that 77% of Americans said former President Donald Trump acted inappropriately with classified documents after leaving the White House, compared with 22% who said he acted appropriately.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden are under investigation by separate special counsels for their handling of sensitive government materials. It is the first time two potential presidential candidates are under federal investigation headed into election season. Mr. Trump has already declared his candidacy for 2024, and Mr. Biden is expected to do the same around next month’s State of the Union address.
The revelation Saturday energized Republicans. Some took to the Sunday talk shows demanding to know whether additional secret records may be found.
SEE ALSO: Biden’s docu-drama fuels news coverage
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich questioned whether more documents might be housed at the Biden Institute at the University of Delaware, which has 1,850 boxes and hundreds of electronic records from Mr. Biden’s time in the Senate. A judge scolded the institution last year for how it handled a public records request for his Senate records.
“I don’t know that anybody has begun to look through those boxes, which were theoretically sealed,” Mr. Gingrich said on Fox News. “But you need to look at them to find out whether there are any classified documents.”
The Republican-led House Oversight and Accountability Committee has launched an investigation into how the classified documents turned up in Mr. Biden’s home and former office.
Federal law strictly forbids the removal or retention of classified documents or materials outside secured locations without authorization, which Mr. Biden would not have had during his tenure as vice president in the Obama White House.
Justice Department investigators on Friday searched all living, working and storage areas of Mr. Biden’s Wilmington home, Mr. Bauer said in a statement released Saturday evening.
The investigators seized six previously undiscovered classified documents dating back to Mr. Biden’s time in the Senate and as vice president.
Mr. Biden represented Delaware in the Senate from 1973 to 2009.
At times in the Senate, he chaired the Foreign Relations Committee, which oversees foreign policy legislation, including funding arms sales and training for U.S. allies.
Investigators also took “personally handwritten notes” by Mr. Biden from his time as vice president, Mr. Bauer said. The search began at 9:45 a.m. and concluded at about 10:30 p.m., according to the statement.
“D.O.J. had full access to the president’s home, including personally handwritten notes, files, papers, binders, memorabilia, to-do lists, schedules, and reminders going back decades,” Mr. Bauer said.
The documents are the latest classified government records discovered this month at Mr. Biden’s home. It brings the total number of classified documents discovered at Mr. Biden’s Wilmington residence to at least 12.
A batch of classified documents was found in November at a private office Mr. Biden maintained at a Washington think tank after the end of the Obama administration.
That discovery touched off a frantic hunt for additional documents, leading Mr. Biden’s attorneys to search his homes in Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
The previous searches were carried out by Mr. Biden’s attorneys. On Friday, the Justice Department conducted the search of Mr. Biden’s house at the invitation of his legal team.
It is the first publicly known search for sensitive government documents conducted by federal law enforcement authorities at Mr. Biden’s private addresses. The search also marks a major escalation of the Justice Department’s investigation into the potentially illegal mishandling of government documents.
Mr. Bauer said in his statement that the president’s legal team offered to provide investigators with “prompt access” to the residence to allow the Justice Department “to conduct a search of the entire premises for potential vice presidential records and potential classified material.”
The offer, Mr. Bauer said, was made “in the interest of moving the process forward as expeditiously as possible.” It also raises questions about the thoroughness of the two earlier searches of Mr. Biden’s home conducted by his attorneys.
A separate statement from Richard Sauber, a member of the White House Counsel’s Office, said neither the president nor first lady Jill Biden was home at the residence at the time of the search.
“The President’s lawyers and White House Counsel’s Office will continue to cooperate with DOJ and the Special Counsel to help ensure this process is conducted swiftly and efficiently,” Mr. Sauber said.
Mr. and Mrs. Biden spent the weekend at their home in Rehoboth Beach. The unusual trip to the beach resort in the dead of winter fueled speculation that the Bidens’ choice to spend the weekend at their beach home might be related to the classified document drama.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre declined to answer questions Friday about why the Bidens were spending the weekend in Rehoboth Beach instead of his Wilmington residence, where he typically relaxes.
“As it relates specifically to the investigation, I would refer you to the Department of Justice, so I’m not going to — not going to comment on that piece at all from here,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said.
“As it relates to his travel, as you know, he often travels to Delaware on the weekends,” she said. “I just don’t have anything else to share.”
Law enforcement’s search of Mr. Biden’s residence will inevitably draw comparisons to the August raid of Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida.
The FBI obtained a warrant to search Mr. Trump’s residence because investigators had evidence suggesting that the former president had not handed over all classified materials in his possession after receiving a subpoena from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Mr. Trump’s potentially illegal handling of classified materials is also the subject of a special counsel investigation.