Classified documents have been discovered in the homes of Joe Biden, Mike Pence and Donald Trump.
Pence, a former vice president, is the latest to report classified material found at his Indiana residence. The discovery comes amid the Special Counsel’s investigation into how former President Trump and President Biden handled confidential documents when they left office.
Below are the key points and questions from the three cases so far.
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Where and when were the documents found
The National Archives first asked Trump to hand over the missing documents after he left office. After a months-long effort to obtain documents from his Mar-a-Lago Florida estate, the agency discovered he had classified material and referred the matter to the Justice Department. The DOJ investigation intensified in the summer of 2022, beginning with a visit to Mar-a-Lago in June, followed by the execution of a search warrant in August.
The FBI said there were 184 documents bearing classification markings in the boxes recovered from the National Archives, and an inventory of items seized during the FBI’s August search showed that 11 sets of documents of various classifications ranging from confidential to top secret and sensitive information. .
In Biden’s case, a “small number” of documents from his vice presidency were “unexpectedly” found in a locked cabinet at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, DC on Nov. 2 as the office was being cleared out.
In late December, more documents were found by his attorneys in the garage and an adjoining room of his residence in Wilmington, Delaware, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland. The Justice Department subsequently conducted a search of the Wilmington home on Jan. 20, taking six items consisting of documents with classification marks from Biden’s time in the Senate and as vice president, according to Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal attorney.
Biden’s lawyers have repeatedly said that a “small number” of documents were found at the locations. It’s not clear exactly how many documents were found or what information they contain. ABC News reported that some documents found at the Penn Biden Center have been marked top secret.
Pence engaged an outside counsel to conduct a Jan. 16 review of the documents at his Indiana home, according to his attorney Greg Jacob. During that review, Jacob said that a “small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information” were found and locked in a safe before being turned over to the FBI.
Who is under investigation?
Both Trump and Biden are under investigation. The investigations are conducted by two separate special counsels appointed by AG Garland.
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Trump denied wrongdoing, claiming, without evidence, that he declassified documents at his home.
Attorneys in the White House counsel’s office said they were “confident” that the investigation into the Biden matter will prove any mishandling of records was a “mistake.”
Documents found at Pence’s home are being reviewed by the Justice Department’s Homeland Security Division and the FBI, sources told ABC News. Pence’s attorney Greg Jacob said Pence “is ready and willing to cooperate” with “any appropriate investigation.”
What are the possible ramifications?
Under the Presidential Records Act, all official materials are the property of the government and must be provided to the National Archives at the end of a president’s term. Violations of the 1978 law were rarely prosecuted or prosecuted. Experts told ABC News after the search in Mar-a-Lago that they were skeptical of criminal charges for violating the Presidential Records Act.
Investigators in the Biden and Trump cases could also look into potential violations of other federal statutes that dictate the mishandling of classified material, such as those related to the willful withholding of public records.
For Trump, obstruction is also a key issue. Federal prosecutors cited efforts to obstruct an investigation of documents in his estate in the search affidavit.
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There are potential political ramifications for each of the men, too: Trump has already announced his candidacy for 2024, and Biden is expected to make a decision on his re-election bid soon. Pence is also considered a possible contender for 2024.
House Republicans, now the majority, are launching their own investigations into Biden’s handling of the records.
Why are confidential documents coming into the spotlight now?
Trump’s case has thrust the issue into the national spotlight. Biden’s team has attempted to shed some light between the two issues by stating that he has been working with the Justice Department since the beginning. But the White House is under scrutiny for not disclosing the discovery of documents to the public until 10 weeks after the classified documents were first discovered at the Penn Biden Center.
Jacob said Pence engaged with an outside attorney to have a records review at his home once the matter of Biden’s documents became known in January. The move was “out of an abundance of caution,” he said.
How common are classified documents?
Many are now wondering how much information is classified, how many people have access to sensitive information, and how it is monitored.
John Cohen, ABC News contributor and former undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said on ABC’s “Start Here” podcast that there is widespread access to classified material and the “vast majority” of it is not subject to an strict logon, logoff processes.
When asked by MaryAlice Parks of ABC News whether the system needs reforming, White House spokesman John Kirby said “the procedures exist for a reason and have been developed over many, many years as the nature of classified material is changed”. pointing to new electronic capabilities.
As for whether there’s an overclassification issue, Kirby said it’s “a balance we try to strike to make sure everything is properly labeled and handled appropriately.”
Luke Barr, Katherine Faulders, Ben Gittleson, Alexander Mallin and Molly Nagle of ABC News contributed to this report.
5 questions and takeaways from the cases of classified Trump, Biden and Pence documents that originally appeared on abcnews.go.com