A special counsel will investigate whether President Joe Biden mishandled classified files, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Thursday.
The US President said it was discovered along with other documents found in his garage.
Robert Hur, a prosecutor who has worked on terrorism and corporate fraud, will lead the investigation, Garland confirmed s.
Hur has had a number of other high-profile roles including serving as a former Donald Trump-appointed US attorney in Maryland.
His taking over from the top Justice Department prosecutor in Chicago, John Lausch, who was earlier assigned by the department to investigate the matter and who recommended to Garland last week that a special counsel be appointed. Hur is to begin his work soon.
“I will ensure that Mr Hur receives all the resources he needs to conduct his work,” Garland said.
“The extraordinary circumstances here require the appointment of a special counsel for this matter,” Garland said, adding that Hur is authorized to investigate whether any person or entity violated the law.
“This appointment underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.”
Just days ago, it was disclosed that sensitive documents were also found at the office of his former institute in Washington.
Biden told reporters at the White House that he was “cooperating fully and completely” with a Justice Department investigation into how classified information and government records were stored.
He did not say when the latest series of documents were found, only that his lawyers’ review of potential storage locations was completed Wednesday night.
Lawyers found the first set on November 2 days before the midterm elections, but publicly revealed that development only on Monday.
Richard Sauber, a special counsel to the president, said after the initial documents were found by Biden’s personal lawyers, they examined other locations where records might have been shipped after Biden left the vice presidency in 2017.
Sauber said a “small number” of documents with classified markings were found in a storage space in Biden’s garage in Wilmington, with one document being located in an adjacent room. Biden later revealed that the other location was his personal library.
Biden said the Department of Justice was “immediately notified” after the documents were located and that department lawyers took custody of the records. The first batch of documents had been turned over to the National Archives and Records Administration.
Regardless of the Justice Department review, the revelation that Biden potentially mishandled classified or presidential records is proving to be a political headache for Biden, who said former President Donald Trump was “irresponsible” for keeping hundreds of such records at his private club in Florida.
New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, said of the latest news: “I think Congress has to investigate this.
“Here’s an individual that sat on ‘60 Minutes’ that was so concerned about President Trump’s documents locked in behind, and now we find that this is a vice president keeping it for years out in the open in different locations.”
Contradicting several fellow Republicans, he said: “We don’t think there needs to be a special prosecutor.”
The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee has requested that intelligence agencies conduct a “damage assessment” of potentially classified documents. Ohio Republican Mike Turner also requested briefings from Attorney General Merrick Garland and the director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, on their reviews by January 26.
“The presence of classified information at these separate locations could implicate the President in the mishandling, potential misuse, and exposure of classified information,” Turner wrote the officials.
Garland was to deliver a statement later Thursday but the Justice Department didn’t provide details.
Earlier this week, the White House confirmed that the department was reviewing “a small number of documents with classified markings” found at the Washington office. Biden’s lawyers had discovered the material at the offices of the Penn Biden Centre and then immediately called the National Archives about the discovery, the White House said. Biden kept an office there after he left the vice presidency in 2017 until shortly before he launched his Democratic presidential campaign in 2019.
The revelation that additional classified documents were uncovered by Biden’s team came hours after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dodged questions about Biden’s handling of classified information and the West Wing’s management of the discovery.
She had said Wednesday that the White House was committed to handling the matter in the “right way,” pointing to Biden’s personal attorneys’ immediate notification of the National Archives.
But she refused to say when Biden himself had been briefed, whether there were any more classified documents potentially located at other unauthorised locations, and why the White House waited more than two months to reveal the discovery of the initial batch of documents.
The Justice Department is reviewing the records that were found at the Penn Biden Centre and Garland has asked John Lausch, the US attorney in Chicago, to review the matter, a person familiar with the matter told the media on condition of anonymity.
Lausch is one of the few US attorneys to be held over from Trump’s administration.
Biden has said he was “surprised to learn that there are any government records that were taken there to that office” but his lawyers “did what they should have done” when they immediately called the National Archives.
The revelation also may complicate the Justice Department’s consideration of whether to bring charges against Trump. The Republican is trying to win back the White House in 2024 and has repeatedly claimed the department’s inquiry into his own conduct amounted to “corruption.”
There are significant differences between the Trump and Biden situations, including the gravity of an ongoing grand jury investigation into the Mar-a-Lago matter.