White House to update top Republicans on recovered classified files

Biden administration officials are offering key congressional leaders a briefing on classified documents found in the possession of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, two sources close to the office have said. discussions.

Officials had not yet scheduled a briefing because, they said, the priority is an intelligence briefing for those leaders on developments and diplomatic friction with China over an alleged spy balloon floating in the above the United States before another was shot down on Saturday, the sources said.

The goal was to get the briefing on the wayward documents by the end of the week, the two officials said. The briefing on the documents would be aimed at the Congressional “Gang of Eight”, top leaders of the House and Senate and congressional intelligence committees, the officials said.

The group represents congressional leaders who have the most access to classified information and who aim to shape US foreign and domestic policy because they are armed with sensitive information.

Some congressional leaders, including Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been unhappy with the Justice Department’s inability so far to give them more information about what the Trump documents cover.

Lawmakers say they can’t fix what’s wrong with the nation’s classification and storage system for such material until they have a better idea of ​​what the banned material covers. One solution: Some senators wanted the Intelligence Committee to issue subpoenas to the law enforcement agency that usually does, the Justice Department, looking for this information.

The standoff could have been avoided on Sunday, however, by news that the Biden administration plans to brief congressional intelligence leaders.

Chinese documents and balloons are the responsibility of US intelligence, and a White House briefing for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees is required by law. The chair, however, can limit the information to a handful of committee heads, if necessary.

Republicans in Congress have called for a briefing on documents seized from Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Fla., on August 8 as part of the FBI’s criminal investigation into apparently mishandled classified documents, some marked “top secret.” .

Officers said they seized about 11,000 records, with about 100 marked classified.

Trump said the seizure was politically motivated and unnecessary. The National Archives and Record Administration, the legal custodian of the items, has attempted to return documents it believed to be with Trump on several occasions since he left office in 2021. After a series of documents returned from Trump’s private premises, federal officials determined they were no longer with the former president.

In June, Trump’s attorneys turned over 38 other classified documents and a signed statement that “all corresponding documents have been turned over.” The FBI disagreed and requested a warrant, prompting a search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach residence and compound.

Trump continued with the seizure, but his attorneys dropped the case after his appeal was denied by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The former president had asked the Supreme Court of the United States to intervene; he declined.

He argued that the seized documents belonged to him. He also claimed that the FBI planted evidence to smear him. Either way, Trump said, he had the authority as president to declassify the documents as he saw fit, even if there was no declassification evidence or documentation.

Under federal law, official White House records are federal property and must be turned over to the National Archives when a president leaves office.

Subsequently, classified items were found in Biden’s office at his Penn Biden Center think tank in Washington and at his home in Delaware and were returned, as well as at Pence’s residence in Indiana, which have been returned. In both cases, the material was found by people who work for the two former vice presidents after deciding to look proactively — to avoid the legal issues Trump faced.

In January, it was revealed that the National Archives had sent a letter asking staff members of living former presidents and vice presidents to search for documents that might be classified or government property.

It’s unclear what the Biden administration will share in the update, one of the sources said. The briefing plan was developed in response to bipartisan backlash because the Director of National Intelligence and the Justice Department failed to brief congressional intelligence officials on the documents and their importance to US security.

On NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, shared news of the White House’s offer to brief the Gang of Eight.

“The Biden administration had not engaged anyone from national security on the issue of threats to these documents,” he said. “It took Congress stepping in and saying, ‘We want a security threat [assessment].’ And then they tried to deny giving us the briefing from there [balloon] threat.”

Turner accused the Biden administration of using its duty to brief key congressional leaders on intelligence matters to change the subject after a suspected spy balloon from China fell overhead on Saturday. of the Carolina coast at the time.

On Sunday, the presence of the balloon over the United States and the subsequent apparent tensions in a diplomatic back-and-forth with China were presented by Republicans as bad news for Biden. Some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., called the administration’s actions on Saturday “leadership.”

“What’s interesting is that the moment this balloon went public I got notice not from the administration that I’m going to have a briefing on this balloon, but they have to rush Congress now to tell us about the Donald Trump documents,” Turner said. “You can see they want to change the news.”


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