The notebooks President Joe Biden wrote during his tenure as vice president are among items the FBI took from one of his Delaware homes during a search last week, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
The notebooks were seized because Biden’s writings on some pages refer to his official activity as vice president, including details of his diplomatic engagements during the Obama administration, and may refer to classified information, this person said. They said the notebooks have no classified marks on them, but some of the handwritten notes inside them could be considered as such given their sensitive content.
Other pages in the notebooks, while they may not contain potentially classified information, could still be considered government property under the Presidential Records Act because they involve official business conducted by Biden as vice president, the person with knowledge of the investigation said.
The notebooks include a mix of Biden’s handwritten notes on various topics, both personal and official, this person said. On some pages, Biden wrote things about his family or his life not related to public office, they said. On other pages, they said he recalled in writing some of his experiences or thoughts of him as vice president at the time.
The number of notebooks kept by Biden is large, according to the person familiar with the investigation, but did not know the precise number.
When asked about the notebooks, a spokesman for Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer reiterated the position taken by the president’s legal team in earlier statements about the Justice Department’s investigation into Biden’s possession of classified Obama administration materials which was found in his Wilmington, Delaware, residence and an office in Washington, DC that he used after leaving the vice presidency.
“As noted in the statement released on Jan. 14, consistent with our view of the requirements of our cooperation with the DOJ in this matter, we will not comment on the accuracy of reports of this nature,” the spokesperson said.
The Justice Department declined to comment. The FBI did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Bauer’s rep on Friday declined to comment when asked if Biden knew the notebooks were packed in boxes left to him at the end of the Obama administration, if he had access to them since he left the vice presidency, and if he thought that the notebooks were his personal property.
In a letter this week to former presidents and vice presidents, the National Archives asked their offices to search any materials in their possession that might be related to their posts, including “to determine whether bodies of materials previously thought to be of a personal nature might contain inadvertently presidential or vice presidential documents subject to [Presidential Records Act]classified or unclassified”.
The request followed a battle between former President Donald Trump and the archives over his possession of classified documents after he left office, which led to the FBI obtaining a search warrant in August to recover them from his Mar-a-Lago estate; The discovery by Biden aides in November of confidential documents from his time as vice president in his private office, as well as subsequent discoveries; and former Vice President Mike Pence’s revelation that his aides found classified documents at his Indiana home earlier this month.
Trump and Biden’s possession of classified documents is the subject of separate special counsel investigations. Attorney General Merrick Garland has so far not appointed a special counsel to investigate Pence’s handling of confidential documents.
Biden’s possession of notebooks from his time as vice president that include notes on the official business he conducted in that role raises questions about whether he appropriately followed procedures for retaining presidential records. She also raises questions about whether the notebooks are considered personal or official, and how other vice presidents and presidents who have kept similar notebooks while in office have handled theirs.
Federal law permits presidents and vice presidents to write and, upon leaving office, keep diaries and notes of a “personal” nature, as long as they have not shared the materials with anyone during their tenure. (Former President Ronald Reagan kept a handwritten journal during his eight years in the White House, stashing it in a dresser drawer and only his wife, Nancy, knew they were there, according to Douglas Brinkley, the presidential historian who in he later edited and published the diaries.)
Jason R. Baron, former director of litigation at the National Archives, said when it comes to notebooks containing handwritten notes on personal matters, mixed with notes on government business, they would likely be considered personal property if Biden never shared them. with no government staff during the vice presidency.
Baron said that’s true whether Biden jotted down a note about buying a president for his wife’s birthday or wrote about meeting with a foreign leader.
But if Biden shared the contents of the notebooks with staff while he served as vice president, the materials would be considered official documents belonging to the government, Baron said.
“A former president’s or vice president’s handwritten personal notes are considered presidential documents only if they have been shared or communicated with other White House or federal agency personnel for use in transacting government business,” Baron said. . “A former president or vice president has the right to take personal notes from the White House. They are not official documents that are placed in the legal custody of the National Archives at the end of an administration.”
On Jan. 20, the FBI spent more than 12 hours searching Biden’s Wilmington home for any possible documentation from his eight years as vice president, including potentially classified materials.
The following day, Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, said in a statement that federal investigators had taken more than just classified-marked documents with them after gaining access to “notes, files, documents, binders, memorabilia, lists of Biden’s handwritten to-dos, schedules, and memos that date back decades.
The Justice Department “has taken possession of materials it believes are within the scope of its investigation, including six items consisting of documents with classification marks and surrounding materials,” Bauer said in the statement. “The DOJ also took for further review personally handwritten notes from the vice presidential years.”
Revelations that Trump, Biden and Pence all possessed classified materials after leaving office have prompted calls for changes in the process for the departure of presidents and vice presidents.
Norman Eisen, who served as special adviser on ethics in the White House to former President Barack Obama, said he wants to look more closely at the records of a president and a vice president before they leave office, so that government documents are not packed together with other personal belongings.
Eisen outlined a hypothetical scenario in which an outgoing president or aide wanted to package a medical bill that needed to be paid and was required to call the National Archives to ask an employee to determine whether it was a personal or government record.
Pence apologized on Friday for withholding documents in his possession and said he took full responsibility for them.
Biden said he was surprised to learn confidential documents were found in his former office in November and said “there’s nothing there” in terms of the federal investigation. The White House counsel’s office said the documents were inadvertently packed in boxes and taken away after Biden left the vice presidency.
A person close to Biden said it was impossible to imagine he packed his bags himself after stepping down from the vice presidency. That would have been his staff’s job, this person said, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak more freely.
“He’s not putting anything in boxes,” this person said.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com