Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday appointed Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the discovery of classified documents that were potentially mishandled following President Biden’s tenure as vice president.
Garland made the announcement after a second batch of classified documents were found in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington, Del., residence and also indicated that, just this morning, attorneys for Biden informed the department of an additional document located within the house.
“The extraordinary circumstances here require the appointment of a special counsel for this matter,” Garland said.
“This appointment underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters.”
Hur, a Trump appointee who served as the U.S. Attorney in Maryland, will return to the department to conduct the investigation into “the possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents,” Garland said.
The matter comes as the Justice Department has appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into former President Trump’s mishandling of records after some 300 records bearing classified markings were discovered at his Mar-a-Lago residence.
Garland offered visibility into a case that has been underway since November, though the public has only been aware of the matter since Monday following reporting from CBS News.
Documents were first discovered in early November at an office Biden used after the Obama administration, with Biden attorneys notifying the National Archives and the Justice Department of the matter on Nov. 4.
An FBI assessment commenced Nov. 9, while Garland referred the matter to Chicago-based U.S. Attorney John Lausch, also a Trump appointee, on Nov. 14, who reviewed the case and recommended the appointment of a special counsel.
On Dec. 20, attorneys for Biden informed Lausch that more documents were discovered in the garage of Biden’s Delaware home, while an additional document inside the home was identified Tuesday morning.
Biden’s team alerted both the National Archives and the Justice Department of the matter shortly after their discovery, differing from Trump’s interaction with officials, who requested the documents multiple times, including through a subpoena and eventually a warrant to search his home.
“As the President said, he takes classified information and materials seriously, and as we have said, we have cooperated from the moment we informed the Archives that a small number of documents were found, and we will continue to cooperate. We have cooperated closely with the Justice Department throughout its review, and we will continue that cooperation with the Special Counsel,” Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said in a statement.
“We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake.”
Presidential records are required by law to be maintained by the National Archives, while other laws cover the mishandling of classified records, prohibiting them from being retained or removed to inappropriate settings.
Saubers’s nod to the documents’ unintentional misplacement, however, seems to be a reference to laws that prohibit the willful retention of classified records.
Still, the appearance of the classified records discovered relating to Biden has prompted calls for oversight from both Democrats and Republicans. While Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.) requested a briefing on the matter, numerous Republicans have suggested that it should prompt the appointment of a special counsel.
“I think if you believe a special counsel is necessary to assure the public about the handling of classified documents by Donald Trump, you should apply a special counsel to the mishandling of classified documents by President Biden when he was vice president,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said during an interview with Martha MacCallum on Fox News.
The White House on Thursday, prior to Garland’s announcement, stressed their cooperation with authorities.
“We are fully cooperating with the National Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives,” attorney Richard Sauber said in a statement.
“As was done in the case of the Penn-Biden Center, the Department of Justice was immediately notified, and the lawyers arranged for the Department of Justice to take possession of these documents.”
Hur is the second counsel Garland has appointed in just three months.
In November, he appointed Jack Smith to oversee both the investigation into the potential mishandling of records at Trump’s Florida home, as well as Trump’s efforts to prevent the transfer of power following the 2020 election.
Hur has experience prosecuting cases ranging from violent crime to national security issues to financial fraud. Prior to his role as U.S. attorney, he served as the principal associate deputy attorney general at the Justice Department. After graduating from Stanford Law School, he clerked for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.
“I will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial, and dispassionate judgment,” Hurr said in a statement.
“I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor, and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service.”
Updated at 2:45 p.m.