Classified files have been found at ex-US Vice-President Mike Pence’s home in the latest discovery of secret papers at the homes of officials who have served in the top ranks of government.
The documents, discovered by a lawyer last week for Mr Pence at his Indiana home, have been handed over to the FBI.
Investigators are already looking into President Joe Biden and ex-President Donald Trump’s possession of files.
Mr Trump faces a criminal investigation for allegedly mishandling papers.
Representatives for Mr Pence sent a letter to the National Archives alerting them to the documents.
The FBI came to the former vice-president’s home to collect the documents, bypassing “standard procedures” and requesting “direct possession” of them, lawyers added in a separate letter.
Under the Presidential Records Act, White House records are supposed to go to the National Archives once an administration ends. Regulations require such files to be stored securely.
A “small number of documents bearing classified markings” were “inadvertently boxed and transported” to Mr Pence’s home at the end of Mr Trump’s presidency, his lawyer wrote in a letter shared with US media.
The latest development emerged after Mr Pence sought legal help from specialists in handling classified documents “out of an abundance of caution”.
He asked for help “after it became public that documents with classified markings were found in President Joe Biden’s Wilmington residence”, the letter read.
Lawyers found “a small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information”, which were locked by the former vice-president in a safe.
An aide to Mr Pence told CBS News, the BBC’s US partner, the documents were stored in boxes in an insecure area of Mr Pence’s home. The aide said they were taped shut.
According to US media, the documents are believed to have first been taken to Mr Pence’s home in Virginia before later being sent to Indiana.
After the letter became public, Mr Trump came to Mr Pence’s defence, taking to his Truth Social social media platform to say that he is “an innocent man”.
“He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life,” Mr Trump wrote. “Leave him alone!!!”
Mr Pence had repeatedly said over the last months that he did not believe he was in possession of classified documents.
Earlier this month, he told CBS that he was confident reviews of documents in his home were done “in a thorough and careful way”.
Mr Biden previously said he had “no regrets” over not going public before the midterm elections with the news that classified documents had been discovered in his private office.
Six more classified files were found during a 13-hour search of President Biden’s home in Delaware on Friday, his lawyer Bob Bauer said in a statement on Saturday.
The documents unearthed so far are believed to be related to Mr Biden’s eight-year tenure as vice-president under former President Barack Obama.
Mr Biden offered access “to his home to allow DoJ [the Department of Justice] to conduct a search of the entire premises for potential vice-presidential records and potential classified material”, Mr Bauer added.
Earlier this month, Mr Biden’s lawyers said a first batch of classified documents had been found on 2 November at the Penn Biden Center, a think tank that the president founded in Washington DC.
A second batch of records was found on 20 December in the garage at his Wilmington home, while another document was found in a storage space at the house on 12 January, his lawyers said.
Representatives for former Presidents Obama and George W Bush told Reuters on Tuesday that their administrations had turned over all documents to the National Archives after leaving office.
The discoveries at the homes of Mr Pence and Mr Biden come as Mr Trump faces a special counsel inquiry over his alleged mishandling of documents.
Hundred of classified records were found at Mr Trump’s Florida Mar-a-Lago residence – Mr Trump and his lawyers resisted handing over the documents until the FBI raided the Florida holiday home last August.
He denied any wrongdoing, alleging that President Biden was being treated more favourably by the FBI.
Classified documents have been found in Mike Pence’s private home
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Today we learned that yet more classified documents slipped out of the White House and into the private home of a top official. We’re not talking about the residence of President Biden or former President Donald Trump. These documents were uncovered at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence. For the latest, we’re joined by NPR’s Greg Myre. Hey, Greg.
GREG MYRE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So another day, another tranche of classified documents turning up somewhere they should not have been. How were these documents found?
MYRE: They were found at Pence’s home in Carmel, Ind., on January 16. That’s eight days ago, and that’s according to an aide to Pence, Greg Jacob. Now, he says Pence wasn’t aware that he had this classified material at his home, but because of these recent document discoveries involving President Biden and President Trump, this prompted Pence to ask an outside lawyer to review the material stored at his home. And the lawyer found, quote, “a small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information.” Now, Pence’s aide said these documents were inadvertently boxed and transported when Pence left the White House two years ago. And upon learning this, Pence put the documents in a locked safe. The FBI collected them from the safe last Thursday.
KELLY: OK. So the FBI has them now. Will this set off the same kind of investigation we are seeing with documents linked to President Biden and former President Trump?
MYRE: Well, we don’t know yet, and we don’t know what’s in the documents, but this certainly seems possible. Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland has already named two separate special counsels. One is looking into the documents found at Biden’s former office and residence, and the other one is reviewing the material found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida. Now, Pence is a possible Republican presidential contender in 2024. He’d certainly want to get this resolved before launching a campaign. With Trump declaring his candidacy and Biden likely to do so, we now have three possible candidates who need to sort out some issues with classified documents.
KELLY: Yeah. Well, and I have to note, both Democrats and Republicans seem extremely concerned when someone from the other party is found with classified documents. What are we hearing today?
MYRE: Right. So Pence himself hasn’t commented, but he did speak to CBS on January 11, and that was five days before the documents were found at his home. He said his staff, quote, “reviewed all the materials in our office and our residence to ensure there were no classified materials that left the White House.” Now, he said that he was very confident that was the case, although five days later we find out the opposite took place. And the head of the House Oversight Committee, James Comer, a Kentucky Republican, said Pence has agreed to fully cooperate. And we should note that Biden and his staff have cooperated with the government while former President Trump resisted for months as the government sought to retrieve missing classified documents from him.
KELLY: Starting to feel like a safe bet, Greg, that this ain’t the last case you and I may have occasion to discuss, that more classified material is out there somewhere. Speak to why it is so hard for the government just to keep a handle on this, track it all down.
MYRE: Yeah. It is actually very hard to do that unless somebody actually knows that it’s gone. You know, with classified documents, one agency will create it, and then it gets shared with other parts of the government, including the White House. But there’s no master list of every document, which can vary widely in terms of sensitivity. So documents do go missing, usually by accident. And the intelligence community even has a term for this. They call it spillage. It happens, and they know it happens.
KELLY: NPR’s Greg Myre, thank you.
MYRE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Classified Documents Found at Pence’s Home in Indiana
The documents were “inadvertently boxed and transported” to the former vice president’s home at the end of the Trump administration, Mr. Pence’s representative wrote in a letter to the National Archives.
Aides to former Vice President Mike Pence found a “small number of documents” with classified markings at his home in Indiana during a search last week, according to an adviser to Mr. Pence.
The documents were “inadvertently boxed and transported” to Mr. Pence’s home at the end of President Donald J. Trump’s administration, Greg Jacob, Mr. Pence’s representative for dealing with records related to the presidency, wrote in a letter to the National Archives.
The discovery of the classified documents in Mr. Pence’s home was reported earlier by CNN.
The letter, dated Jan. 18, said that the former vice president was unaware of the existence of the documents and reiterated that he took seriously the handling of classified materials and wanted to help.
Mr. Jacob wrote that Mr. Pence relied on an outside lawyer after classified documents were found in recent days at the residence and former private office of President Biden. A person familiar with the search identified that lawyer as Matthew E. Morgan, who has a long history with the Pences and who worked as a lawyer on the 2020 re-election campaign. Mr. Jacob also said the lawyer could not specify anything more about the documents because the lawyer had stopped looking once it was clear the documents had classified markings.
“Counsel identified a small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information interspersed throughout the records,” Mr. Jacob wrote of the search, which he said was conducted on Jan. 16. A person familiar with the matter said the lawyer who conducted the search previously worked with Mr. Pence in the Trump administration and had a security clearance while there.
“Vice President Pence immediately secured those documents in a locked safe pending further direction on proper handling from the National Archives,” Mr. Jacob wrote.
In a second letter dated four days later, Mr. Jacob wrote that despite having a conversation with archives officials on Jan. 19 about procedures for obtaining records from former presidents and vice presidents, the Justice Department that evening “bypassed the standard procedures and requested direct possession” of the documents.
Mr. Pence was in Washington attending the March for Life anti-abortion event, Mr. Jacob wrote, but he still granted permission to turn over the documents. Mr. Jacob also wrote that there were two boxes in which the records with classified markings had been found, as well as two additional boxes with copies of administration papers.
He said he would personally bring those boxes to the National Archives on Jan. 23. An archives spokesperson declined a request for comment.
Mr. Pence’s transition out of office was notoriously bumpy, after Mr. Trump spent weeks pressuring him to effectively overturn the results of the 2020 election so that Mr. Trump could stay in power.
Still, the disclosure brings more questions about how classified material is handled at the top levels of government at a moment when Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are both subjects of special counsel investigations on the matter.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland had no comment when asked about the retrieval of the documents from Mr. Pence’s house. He declined to say whether the Justice Department’s involvement in the matter signaled an impending criminal investigation that might warrant referral to a special counsel.
Mr. Trump has been under federal investigation for nearly a year for how hundreds of documents with classified markings, as well as hundreds of pages of presidential records, wound up at his private club and residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Mr. Trump resisted the urging of aides to give boxes of documents with unknown contents to the National Archives. When he eventually turned over 15 boxes, archives officials found hundreds of pages with classified markings. Mr. Trump later faced a grand jury subpoena to turn over any remaining documents, and one of his lawyers wrote a statement saying everything had been turned over. When investigators found evidence that was not the case, the F.B.I. searched his club in August.
Mr. Biden, by contrast, has cooperated since the discovery of documents at his nonprofit offices and then his home. However, he and the White House have faced questions about the timeline of the discoveries and the level of transparency with the public about when documents were found at Mr. Biden’s home.
On Friday, the F.B.I. searched Mr. Biden’s home for about 13 hours and found six additional items that were taken, his lawyer said. The president granted access to his Delaware house.
Mr. Jacob, who was Mr. Pence’s general counsel while he was vice president, stressed cooperation in the letter to the National Archives.
Still, Mr. Pence and his aides had previously said they were confident that the vice president had not retained any classified documents after he left office.
One of the people familiar with the matter said that the documents in question were largely previously held at the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory. Officials began briefing relevant congressional committee officials on Tuesday, the person said.
Mr. Pence is considering a presidential campaign for 2024, in a primary in which Mr. Trump is so far the only declared candidate. Mr. Biden has not yet said whether he will run for re-election, but all signs point to a likely candidacy for a second term.
Mike Pence had classified documents at home, turned them over
FBI agents came to Pence’s Indiana home on the night of Jan. 19 to retrieve documents the former vice president had located a few days earlier, an aide indicated.
The Justice Department has taken possession of a “small number” of documents with classified markings that former Vice President Mike Pence found in his Indiana residence earlier this month, according to Greg Jacob, the custodian of Pence’s White House records.
In a Jan. 22 letter to the National Archives, Jacob indicated that FBI agents came to Pence’s Indiana home on the night of Jan. 19 to retrieve documents that the former vice president had located a few days earlier.
“The transfer was facilitated by the Vice President’s personal attorney, who has experience in handling classified documents,” wrote Jacob.
DOJ’s effort to obtain the documents came days after Pence notified the National Archives that he had discovered them at his residence on Jan. 16. Jacob indicated Pence was unaware of the existence of the documents and had enlisted an outside counsel after press reports of the discovery of documents at President Joe Biden’s own personal residence.
The sensitivity of the newly discovered documents is unclear. In his first letter to the Archives, Jacob indicated that Pence’s counsel did not review them “once an indicator of potential classification was identified.”
Pence’s revelation threatens to upend the political landscape on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue. The Biden White House has similarly turned over classified documents to the National Archives that were found in the president’s personal home and an office he used following his stint as vice president. But it has endured withering criticism, including from fellow Democrats, over the existence of those items. And House Republicans have already begun the process of investigating why classified items were discovered in both Wilmington, Del., and the Penn-Biden Center in Washington, D.C.
Revelations that such mistakes are widespread provided Democrats with a sense of inoculation. It also gave them a talking point to contrast Biden’s situation with that of Donald Trump’s, who also had classified documents on his personal property but refused to turn all them over when asked.
“This discovery by Pence’s attorney is a very interesting reinforcement of the contrast between how Biden & Pence are properly cooperating and returning documents versus Trump stealing them, hiding them, and obstructing justice into their return,” said David Brock, president of the Biden-allied group Facts First USA.
The chair of the House Oversight Committee, Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), showed no immediate indication that he would back off his investigations in the aftermath of the Pence revelations.
“Former Vice President Mike Pence reached out today about classified documents found at his home in Indiana,” Comer said. “He has agreed to fully cooperate with congressional oversight and any questions we have about the matter. Former Vice President Pence’s transparency stands in stark contrast to Biden White House staff who continue to withhold information from Congress and the American people.”
The Biden White House declined to discuss the matter citing a policy of not commenting on ongoing investigations. And Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said he planned to “ask for the same intelligence review and damage assessment” that he had requested regarding Biden, “to see if there are any national security concerns.”
The discovery by Pence nevertheless underscores the haphazard process taken by senior officials in departing presidential administrations. And it left other lawmakers on the Hill befuddled.
“I would have thought over a year ago that the beginnings of this conversation between the archives and President Trump, that anyone who served in any of these roles as president and vice president that are still living would say: Go check your closets,” said Senate Intel Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.).
A request for comment made to Pence’s aides was not returned. Pence had previously said that he had not brought classified documents home with him after leaving the vice presidency.
In the Jan. 22 letter to the Archives, Jacob indicated that before DOJ intervened, Pence had been prepared to return four boxes of materials to the Archives for review. He noted that some of the records, while not classified, were likely to include “courtesy copies” of White House records from his tenure in office.
“I expressed to you my expectation that the substantial majority of the documents in the four boxes would, upon examination, be found to be personal copies of other records that were previously transmitted to the Archives,” Jacob noted.
Jacob indicated he intended to transport the boxes, absent the classified records recovered by DOJ, to the Archives on Jan. 23
“The boxes were sealed at the Vice President’s residence in Indiana, following a final review by the Vice President’s personal attorney during which attorney-client privileged materials related to personal capacity attorneys, and Article I legislative branch materials, were placed in sealed and clearly labeled envelopes,” he wrote.
“All of the documents within the boxes, and within the sealed envelopes, remain in the exact place and order in which they were discovered on January 16. The Vice President is not waiving any privileges pertaining to the clearly labeled materials.”
Jordain Carney and Burgess Everett contributed reporting.