The discovery of classified documents at former Vice President Mike Pence’s home is complicating efforts by congressional Republicans to coordinate their lines of attack on President Biden’s handling of similar materials from his time as second-in-command.
Pence’s team disclosed Tuesday that his attorneys conducted a search of his Indiana home out of an abundance of caution following news that classified documents were found at Biden’s home and a former Washington, D.C., office he used after leaving the White House in 2017.
The revelation came just as Republicans in Congress were digging in on Biden, painting the president as careless and possibly jeopardizing sensitive information.
But similarities between how Pence and Biden each handled their respective cases, with lawyers quickly notifying the Justice Department and National Archives, could blunt some of those GOP attacks against the White House.
“The bottom line is, I don’t know how this happened. We need to get to the bottom of it,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told reporters Tuesday. “I don’t believe for a minute that Mike Pence is trying to intentionally compromise national security.”
“And so what became a political problem for Republicans is now a national security problem for the country,” Graham said.
Greg Jacob, an attorney representing Pence, wrote to the National Archives on Jan. 18 to notify them that Pence had directed a search two days earlier that turned up two boxes with some materials with classified markings.
FBI officials took possession of those two boxes on Jan. 19, as well as two other boxes with copies of administration records, Jacob said.
“The additional records appear to be a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former Vice President at the end of the last Administration,” Jacob wrote. “Vice President Pence was unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence.”
It seemed on Tuesday that both Democrats and Republicans embraced the revelation.
The development was welcome news for the White House, which for the past two weeks has been revealing additional information little by little about additional documents being found at Biden’s Delaware home.
And it’s fended off mounting criticism about why the administration didn’t disclose the matter to the public when documents were first discovered months ago, citing an ongoing investigation.
Pence had in recent months repeatedly insisted he did not take any classified materials with him upon leaving office. On Jan. 12, three days after the first Biden discovery was made public in a CBS News report, Pence spoke on Fox Business about how he knew from personal experience “the attention that ought to be paid to those materials when you’re in office and after you leave office.”
White House officials declined to comment on the Pence disclosures on Tuesday. But Democrats will now be able to favorably compare the Biden and Pence cases, noting that both men appeared caught off guard by the discoveries and had lawyers cooperate with the Justice Department and National Archives.
“Politically, this makes it difficult if not impossible for the GOP to criticize Biden, w/out damaging Pence; the situations look very similar,” tweeted Joyce White Vance, a law professor and legal analyst on MSNBC.
Some Republicans as of Tuesday appeared unlikely to relent in their criticism of Biden, signaling they would press forward with their investigations.
Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chairman of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee, said Pence had reached out to the panel on Tuesday about the documents found at his home and “agreed to fully cooperate with congressional oversight and any questions we have about the matter.”
Comer has requested the documents discovered by Biden’s team, communications about the documents between the Biden White House and the Justice Department and a list of visitors to Biden’s Delaware home who were screened by the Secret Service.
The White House in a letter Monday said it would review Comer’s requests and seek to accommodate “legitimate oversight interests.”
“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,” Comer said in a statement.
Former President Trump, who is under Justice Department investigation involving the potential mishandling of classified documents after he left office, also sought to absolve Pence on Tuesday.
“Mike Pence is an innocent man. He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!” Trump posted on his Truth Social platform.
The FBI searched Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in August after he and his team failed to voluntarily turn over sensitive government files following an initial review in January. The January search had turned up dozens of files marked “classified,” “secret” and “top secret.”
The August search then led to a legal fight between Trump attorneys and the federal government, with the former president’s team trying to block prosecutors from reviewing the documents they took from Mar-a-Lago.
But in the case of Pence, even Democrats appeared less interested in attacking Trump’s vice president than in emphasizing the differences between how Pence and Biden handled the discovery of classified materials in their homes compared to Trump.
“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 Facts First USA.
That Biden, Pence and Trump have now all had classified documents found in their residences could mean that three of the most recognizable names running and potentially for president in 2024 are now dealing with the same controversy.
Separate special counsels are reviewing Biden’s and Trump’s handling of classified documents.
And while Democrats are hoping to make Trump’s failure to cooperate with federal officials stick, the Pence revelations may ultimately force lawmakers to focus more broadly on process.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) said Tuesday he was struck by Pence’s Fox Business interview, where Pence detailed every step of the process that was involved in his viewing of classified documents during his time as vice president, which included Pence telling the cable host that some materials were put in a burn bag after he viewed them.
“It sounded like a very nice routine for making sure that you don’t hang on to things. … A nice routine would be a good way to avoid problems like this,” Cramer said, noting that “clearly” this wasn’t enough.