FBI searched Biden's vacation home as part of the classified document probe
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The FBI has searched President Biden's beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Del. It's all part of an ongoing special counsel investigation into Biden's handling of classified material.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Now, Biden's personal attorneys say no documents with classified markings were found, but the FBI did take some materials and handwritten notes with them.
INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is on this story. Tam, good morning.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: Did the president agree to this search in advance?
KEITH: Yes. The president's team said the search was conducted in coordination and cooperation with the Justice Department. Here's Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel's Office.
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IAN SAMS: We're cooperating fully with the Justice Department and ensuring that they have access to the house, the Rehoboth house, today, the Wilmington house previously, to be able to do a thorough search. And it's because the president is moving quickly to get them access to the information that they need so that they can move forward with a thorough review that's thorough and it's done efficiently.
KEITH: The president and his team clearly want this over with as quickly as possible.
INSKEEP: They naturally would want that, but this story just goes on and on. How does this search add to what we had learned through the search last month of the president's home in Wilmington?
KEITH: Right. So the Wilmington search lasted more than 12 hours, and the FBI left with six items that the president's lawyer said consisted of documents with classified markings and surrounding materials. This one was shorter. It lasted 3 1/2 hours. And there were no documents with markings. But in both cases, the FBI took other materials and handwritten notes. The president's attorney, Bob Bauer, said he believes that these date back to Biden's time as vice president. And they are being taken for further review.
INSKEEP: What does that mean?
KEITH: You wouldn't expect handwritten notes to have classified markings, but that doesn't mean they aren't of interest to the special counsel investigation. I reached out to Norm Eisen, who was an ethics lawyer in the Obama administration.
NORM EISEN: They will be looking at documents and at handwritten notes, even if they don't bear classification markings, for any classified information that may be contained therein. That can be a very time-consuming process because you literally go sentence by sentence and even phrase by phrase to assess.
KEITH: And time-consuming is not the phrase that Biden and his team have been angling for.
INSKEEP: OK. Well, what happens if they look through these notes and do find something that appears to be classified information?
FADEL: Eisen says that there have been plenty of prosecutions for mishandling classified documents. But in those cases, there was intent. And he says he has seen no indication that Biden even knew he had these files in his home, much less that he purposely hid classified materials in his house. And that is one of the differences with the ongoing special counsel investigation into former President Trump's handling of classified documents. He and his legal team actively resisted returning documents to the National Archives and may have misled the government about what he had in his possession.
INSKEEP: OK, so there are questions. For example, what is on these handwritten notes? But what other questions are still out there for the special counsel?
KEITH: Well - or for the public. We don't know the number of documents involved. We don't know the contents of these documents or whether other sites could be searched. Earlier this week, it was widely reported that the FBI had searched an office that Biden had used previously back in November. That's something that the president's team keeps sidestepping altogether. There's a rule of thumb in politics, in crisis, that you should get out all the information you can as quickly as you can and get the bad headlines out of the way and move on. In this case, that's just not been happening. It's been coming out slowly.
INSKEEP: NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks so much.
KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.