Document investigation focuses on frantic final days of Biden’s vice presidency


There were days full of phone calls, meetings, farewell events and trips to Ukraine and Switzerland. In January 2017, as he wrapped up his Vice Presidential term, Joe Biden was trying to get as much done as possible in a short amount of time.

The question that arises now is: what else was being included in your tasks and your bags? Who was including him? Why? Where was all this being sent?

The appointment of a special attorney last Thursday (12) has redoubled attention to Biden’s final days in the White House after eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president. For whatever reason, a small number of documents ended up not making their way to the National Archives, their proper destination, but to Biden’s Wilmington residence and later to a private office in Washington.

With Biden in the White House again, he is now having a hard time explaining what happened. His administration hid the discovery of the documents from the public for two months before it was reported by the press, and in the last week it has been forced to correct its version of events several times. And the White House said that after previously reporting that a page of classified material was found in a room off the garage of the Wilmington home, five more pages were discovered by Justice Department officials who went to retrieve the material.

Robert Hur, appointed special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the mishandling of the documents, will no doubt have some work to do to reconstruct what happened in those winter days of 2017, when members of the outgoing vice president’s staff were running around to pack their papers, deliver their badges, cooperate with the new government staff and look for new jobs. The White House has yet to offer any explanation as to how the documents ended up in the hands of Joe Biden, an ordinary citizen.

For Biden, January 2017 was a period of uncertainty. For the first time in 44 years he would be out of government. He was no longer a senator, he would no longer be vice president, he would no longer be at the center of the action, he no longer had a clear future ahead of him. He would write a book, of course, and found a think tank. Only months later would he make the decision to run for president again. During that transition period, something went wrong.

Biden said last week: “I was surprised to learn that there are government documents that were taken to that office.” There is no public evidence that he knew the papers had been taken incorrectly. If the vice president didn’t personally remove them when he left the White House, Hur will no doubt try to determine which aides boxed his papers.

Even before Hur’s appointment, Justice Department officials had already interviewed several people connected to Biden, according to people familiar with the investigation. One of them was Kathy Chung, Biden’s executive assistant when he was vice president and now an employee of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, according to NBC News.

Chung is said to have helped box up what was in Biden’s workroom in 2017, but it is not publicly known whether she handled the documents in question or whether she knew that anything she was saving to be moved to another location was official.

The White House has declined to answer questions, except for limited statements over the past week. “We have been transparent over the past two days,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.

But the White House has not been transparent over the past two months. The first documents were found on 2 November, and a second batch was found on 20 December. After the initial discovery, the White House promptly informed the National Archives and Records Administration, which, in turn, notified the Department of Justice.

But lawyers have been resisting making the information public, saying they wanted to wait until a fuller picture emerged. And they didn’t want to upset the Justice Department by giving the impression that they were litigating the issue in the media.

As Biden was preparing to leave the public sector, his vice presidential chief of staff, Steven Richetti, and other aides helped him craft a plan for a post-White House life into which he could channel his efforts and energies.

One such effort was a memoir Biden released in November 2017 titled “Promise Me, Dad.” The title alludes to his son Beau, who died of brain cancer in 2015 and who reportedly urged his father to continue to be active in public life. Many former presidents and vice presidents consult government documents, through a regular process, to write their memoirs. But it’s unclear whether the papers found in recent months were used in research for a book.

Another project that Biden took on after leaving the White House was the creation of a think tank linked to the University of Pennsylvania, called the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and opened in February 2018. The first wave of documents was found in the meeting room. Biden at the Washington headquarters of the Penn Biden Center, more than three years after Biden formally stepped down from the think tank to run for president.

The Obama-Biden White House established a regular process for handling classified papers, and the White House Office of Archives Management cooperated closely with the National Archives to ensure the correct transfer of materials.

Anything that was submitted to the president was archived. The papers would be returned and placed in the National Security Council system, or, if they involved internal politics, in the Office of Archives Management system. The office of the White House Personnel Secretary was tasked with verifying that the documents were forwarded correctly.

It’s unclear to what extent Biden was involved in the fate of the documents in the days leading up to his departure from the White House in 2017. His schedule was packed; he was trying to squeeze in as much activity as possible in the time he had left.

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