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A special counsel will probe government documents at Biden's home and private office

Robert Hur has been appointed as special counsel to investigate how classified documents came to be located at President Biden's Delaware residence and at a Washington, D.C., think tank office.
Steve Ruark
/
AP
Robert Hur has been appointed as special counsel to investigate how classified documents came to be located at President Biden's Delaware residence and at a Washington, D.C., think tank office.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate how classified documents came to be located at President Biden's Delaware residence and a think tank office in Washington he used for about three years.

Garland named former Justice Department official Robert Hur to conduct the high-profile inquiry after the White House confirmed that Biden's private attorneys found "a small number" of materials with classified markings both in storage in Biden's Wilmington, Del., garage and in an adjacent room as well as in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C. The attorneys said in both cases they turned over the Obama-Biden administration-era records to the National Archives.

The paperwork authorizing Hur's appointment said he is authorized to probe "possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records."

The move marks the second time the Justice Department has handed a politically sensitive probe to a quasi-independent lawyer in as many months. Last November, former war crimes prosecutor Jack Smith took control of the investigation into mishandling of government secrets and obstruction involving scores of documents the FBI seized at former President Donald Trump's Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. Smith will also lead the probe of certain "key aspects" of the Jan. 6 insurrection, including portions that could reach into Trump's inner circle.

Biden told reporters at a news conference in Mexico this week that he wasn't sure what was in the materials found at the Penn Biden Center. "People know I take classified documents and classified information seriously," Biden said.

Republicans, newly empowered in the U.S. House of Representatives, immediately seized on the issue. Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Oversight panel, wrote the White House and the Archives insisting that Biden receive equal treatment under the law. "The Committee is concerned that President Biden has compromised sources and methods with his own mishandling of classified documents," Comer wrote.

Justice Department regulations call for the appointment of special counsels when an investigation would present "a conflict of interest ... or other extraordinary circumstances." In the Mar-a-Lago case, Garland told reporters that Trump's 2024 presidential bid and Biden's expected decision to seek reelection helped convince him to call in an outsider.

Special counsels aren't day-to-day supervision but they're required to explain their actions to the attorney general, who has the power to overrule the counsel but must notify Congress when that happens.

Chicago U.S. Attorney John Lausch, who was appointed during the Trump administration, and who's remained on the job into the Biden term, had been conducting an initial review of the Biden documents matter.
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Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.