WASHINGTON — Saturday’s revelation that classified documents had been found at President Biden’s private home in Wilmington, Del., provided fodder for congressional Republicans who used the following morning’s political talk shows to vow aggressive investigation of how Biden and his top advisers handled classified materials during his time as vice president during the Obama administration.
Democrats, too, were forced to agree that the president had committed a serious error, for which there could be legal and political consequences.
“Just unacceptable,” said Sen Dick Durbin, a veteran Democrat from Illinois, on CNN’s “State of the Union” program.
“They need a course correction,” former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat who represented North Dakota, said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Biden previously maintained that “there’s nothing there” when it comes to the documents, whose contents remain unknown and whose existence has been revealed in a series of damaging acknowledgements throughout the last two weeks. But with some Democrats refusing to accept his reassurances and Republicans emboldened after a difficult start to the new Congress for their House majority, the controversy shows little sign of abating.
“It’s totally irresponsible,” Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., said on CNN. He and other Democrats are unlikely to abandon Biden, however, and the White House believes that the president will ultimately be vindicated.
But that vindication could be far away.
So far, classified materials have been found at an office he used in Washington, a beach home in Rehoboth, Del., and most recently at his Wilmington residence. The initial discovery was made on Nov. 2 but not revealed until earlier this month
A personal attorney for Biden, Richard Sauber, said in a statement announcing Saturday’s discovery that “the President has been committed to handling this responsibly because he takes this seriously.”
Republicans also take the issue seriously. And now that they control the House, they intend to use the lower chamber’s committees to investigate Biden with the same relentless focus that Democrats kept on Donald Trump during his four years as president. Many of Trump’s supporters on Capitol Hill continue to smart from the two impeachments Democrats launched against Trump, one in 2019 for pressuring Ukraine and the other for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.
And Biden’s critics insist that the president face the same scrutiny that Trump did after the Department of Justice raided his Mar-a-Lago resort and residence in South Florida last summer. Several boxes of classified materials were recovered. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed special counsels to independently investigate both cases.
The president “is guilty of the same sin, if you will,” Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, said in an ABC appearance on Sunday morning.
The White House insists that the two cases are not the same, arguing that the records found in Biden’s homes and office were not being intentionally hidden and reflect nothing more than the complex — and, some say, arcane — process for how documents are classified, handled and turned over to the National Archives.
Both Democrats and Republicans fanned out across the cable news networks on Sunday, in preview of a week that is likely to see questions about Biden’s alleged document mishandling grow sharper in tone.
“It was sloppy, and it was wrong. It deserves criticism,” Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general of the U.S., said on MSNBC. “But the question is, is it criminal?”
Katyal pointed out that Biden has opened his homes to investigators and has pledged to comply fully with the Department of Justice, where Garland now faces the uncomfortable task of investigating the president who hired him.
“That contrasts totally with Trump, who stole the documents, lied about it [and] sent his lawyers to certify that everything was turned over when it wasn’t,” Katyal said.
A looming question is whether the White House will also cooperate with Republicans, who have used the latest discovery of classified documents — six were found on Saturday, according to the president’s attorneys — to press the case that something more nefarious than mere carelessness was at work.
“This has gone from simply being irresponsible to downright scary,” Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., said on Fox News. He suggested that a “potential cover-up” had been in the works.
Conservatives were already planning to investigate Hunter Biden, the president’s son, who has a history of substance abuse and has been involved in questionable business deals in China and Ukraine. Comer and others have suggested that they will try to implicate Hunter Biden in the document controversy, even if the two matters appear for now to be unrelated.
Comer, who now heads the Oversight Committee, is one of the Republicans who will prove instrumental in the weeks and months to come, especially in how he manages the imperatives of a credible investigation with the zeal of fervent Biden opponents, including Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., both of whom will also sit on the panel.
“The evidence continues to build that this family has not only profited off the Biden family name but also that our national security could be at risk,” Comer said on Fox News.
Even a close ally of the president ike Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., struggled on Sunday to justify the president’s handling of the burgeoning crisis.
“I do think this was inadvertent,” he conceded.
Because the White House has said little about the documents or how they escaped proper handling, speculation has run rampant.
“I can think of no reason why the president should have taken home, as a senator or as vice president, any classified documents that clearly have no protection. They're available and open to anybody,” Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
Turner called Biden a “serial classified document hoarder."