Secretly marked documents were discovered last week at former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana residence, according to his attorney, the latest in a series of papers meant to be handled with extreme sensitivity from the homes of current and former senior US officials.
“A small number of documents” taken into FBI custody last Thursday “were accidentally bagged and transported to the former vice president’s home at the end of last term,” Pence’s attorney Greg Jacob wrote in a letter to the National Archives with The Associated Press shared.
He said that until a search last week, Pence “was unaware of the existence of any sensitive or classified documents in his private home” and that he “understands the great importance of protecting sensitive and classified information” and is prepared to work with “anyone suitable persons” to cooperate request.”
The revelation came as the Justice Department was already investigating the discovery of documents with classification marks at President Joe Biden’s Delaware home and former office in Washington, and at former President Donald Trump’s Florida estate. Democrat Biden has indicated he will seek re-election, Republican Trump is already a declared candidate, and Pence has been exploring a possible 2024 campaign that would put him in direct competition with his former boss Trump.
The latest discovery throws Pence, who previously insisted on following strict protocols around classified documents, into debate over the handling of classified materials by officials who have served in the highest echelons of government.
Trump is currently under criminal investigation after around 300 documents with secret markings, including at a top secret level, were discovered in his Mar-a-Lago. Officials are trying to determine whether Trump or anyone else should be charged with illegally possessing these records or attempting to obstruct the months-long criminal investigation. Biden is also the subject of an investigation by a special attorney after classified documents from his days as a senator and in the Obama administration were found on his properties.
Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, responded to the new development on his social media page: “Mike Pence is an innocent man. He has never done anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!” Trump and Pence have fallen out over Pence’s refusal to join Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Although a very different case, the Pence development could bolster arguments made by Trump and Biden, who have tried to downplay the importance of the discoveries in their homes. The presence of classified documents in all three men’s apartments underscores the federal government’s cumbersome system for storing and protecting the millions of classified documents it produces each year.
Pence’s attorney, Jacob, said in his letter that the former vice president “hired an outside attorney experienced in dealing with classified documents” to confiscate the records kept at his home on January 16 “as a precaution” amid the uproar review the discovery of documents at Biden’s home.
Jacob said the Pence documents with classification marks were immediately secured in a locked safe. FBI agents visited the residence at 9:30 p.m. on the night of Jan. 19 to retrieve the seized documents, according to a Jan. 22 follow-up letter from the attorney. Pence was in Washington at the time for an event.
According to the letter, a total of four boxes containing copies of administrative papers were discovered — two containing “a small number” of papers with secret markings and two containing “courtesy copies of vice presidential papers.” Arrangements have been made to deliver these boxes to the National Archives on Monday.
Congressional leaders were briefed on the discovery by Pence’s team on Tuesday.
After classified documents were found at his Delaware home, President Joe Biden addressed reporters briefly Thursday to defend his administration’s response to the discovery. “The Department of Justice was notified immediately and the lawyers arranged this [DOJ] take possession of the documents.”
According to a Pence worker, the boxes were not kept in a secure location but were sealed with tape and were believed not to have been opened since they were boxed. The former vice president’s staff also searched his advocacy group’s Washington office last week and uncovered no other documents, according to the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the search.
Most of the material found in the boxes came from the vice president’s residence at the Naval Observatory of Pence, the packaging of which would not have been undertaken by the vice president’s office or his attorneys. Other material came from an office drawer in the west wing, the person said.
The National Archives declined to comment on the discovery. A Justice Department spokesman also declined to comment, and an attorney for Pence did not immediately respond to an email asking for elaboration.
Pence told the Associated Press in August that he did not take any classified information with him when he left office.
When asked directly whether he stored such information, he said, “No, not to my knowledge.”
In an interview with Fox Business this month, Pence described a “very formal process” his office uses to handle classified information, as well as the steps his lawyers take to ensure none are taken.
“Before we left the White House, my staff attorneys went through all the documents both at the White House and in our offices there and at the Vice President’s residence to ensure that all documents that needed to be turned over to the National Archives were classified, including.” Documents were handed over. So we went through a very careful process on that,” Pence said.
On Capitol Hill, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee expressed disbelief at the misuse of documents by senior US officials.
Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas noted that classified documents are only brought out of the committee’s offices in locked bags.
“In my opinion, it is never permissible to take classified documents out of a secure facility,” except by secure transportation between such facilities, he said.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner, a Republican, said he plans to request a formal intelligence review and damage assessment.
And Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida, another potential candidate for 2024, said: “I don’t know how anyone gets classified documents. … I mean, every classified document I’ve ever seen has a big ‘secret’ written on it.”
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and a senior member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, pointed to broader concerns about the classification system, complaining that it’s “at the point where there’s so much out there that there’s it is difficult to determine what should be classified and then it is difficult to determine what should be declassified.”
Meanwhile, some Republicans have been pushing for a search of former President Barack Obama’s personal records.
An Obama spokesman referenced a 2022 statement from the National Archives that said the agency took control of all of his records after he left office and “are not aware of any missing boxes of Obama administration presidential records.” “.
Representatives of former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and former Vice President Dick Cheney, said all of their classified records were turned over to NARA as they left the White House.
Mike Pompeo, who served as Trump’s secretary of state and is contemplating his own 2024 GOP presidential bid, told the AP in August that he didn’t take any classified material with him after leaving the government.
But he told Fox News on Tuesday: “If you’re in the executive branch, you have these documents at your house. You can imagine a piece of paper getting stuck somewhere. I suspect that might have happened.”