President Joe Biden’s former executive assistant said she wasn’t aware that any classified documents were among the papers she packed for the then-vice president as he was leaving office, according to excerpts from her transcribed interview with the House Oversight Committee provided to CNN.
The assistant, Kathy Chung, also said she did not notice any classified documents when she unpacked boxes at the Biden’s private office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, DC, saying she didn’t sort through or closely examine the contents that included family photos, policy papers and challenge coins.
The new details – the first to surface publicly in months – are likely known to federal investigators in the months-long probe into classified materials found at two locations connected to Biden.
In addition to her interview with the committee, Chung spoke to federal prosecutors during an initial review. Her lawyer has also been contacted by the office of special counsel Robert Hur, who is now overseeing the criminal investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents found at an office in Washington and his home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Her responses to the committee’s questions buttress Biden’s story that he was “surprised” about the discovery late last year of classified documents that led to a Justice Department special counsel investigation. More classified documents were later found at his home in Wilmington that he said were “filed in the wrong place.”
Chung also refuted Republican insinuations and conspiracy theories that she was somehow tied to the Chinese Communist Party and was hand-picked by Hunter Biden specifically to move boxes of classified documents.
In a memo by Democratic committee staff, which includes excerpts of Chung’s transcript, they accuse GOP Oversight Chair Rep. James Comer of trying to “cherry-pick and misrepresent critical information in this investigation,” according to a copy of the memo obtained by CNN. The memo asks Democratic committee members to call on Comer to release Chung’s entire transcript.
A spokesperson for the GOP-led House Oversight Committee told CNN the panel will not be releasing Chung’s full statement at this point because “it contains sensitive information to this ongoing investigation.” The spokesperson contends Chung’s testimony undermines the White House’s narrative of events.
“We now know the classified documents were not kept in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center as the Biden team has asserted and the timeline for packing up these documents starts six months earlier,” the spokesperson said.
Biden’s White House lawyer previously said the documents were discovered by the president’s personal attorneys when they were packing files housed in a locked closet as they prepared to vacate the office. The excerpts released by Democrats do not include Chung discussing whether the boxes were kept in a locked closet.
Molly Levinson, a spokesperson for Biden’s attorney, declined to comment. A spokesman for Hur declined to comment. Chung’s lawyer declined to comment and confirmed there are still no plans for a special counsel interview with Chung at this time.
Details about the packing and unpacking of the boxes
Chung’s answers provide a window into what can be a quick packing process during a presidential transition, as she describes putting files into boxes without knowing their contents. Former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Michael Pence also are under scrutiny for their handling of classified documents and presidential records found in their homes and offices after they left office.
Chung also testified to the committee that she repacked Biden’s documents at the Penn Biden Center in June 2022 and confirmed that she did not learn until November 2022 from President Biden’s attorney, Robert Bauer, that some of the boxes she packed contained classified documents.
Chung, who had a security clearance during her time in the Obama White House and had experience handling and identifying classified documents, told the panel that she believed all of the classified documents and Presidential records had already been removed at the time she was packing.
She said she did not double check to ensure that no classified documents were put into the approximately 13 boxes that ended up at the Penn Biden Center.
Chung told the committee she did not even open the file folders with documents inside of them before putting them in the boxes at the White House.
Q: But they were in a file folder first before they went in a box, correct?
A: Well, the file folder was in the drawer, and we gathered up the file folders and put in a box.
Q: And at that time when you took the file folders, there were documents in the file folders?
Q: Did you go through the file folders and the documents at that point?
Chung confirmed that no one in the Biden family was involved in packing boxes or instructing what to pack. When asked specifically why she didn’t sort the documents before packing, Chung said, “we didn’t have the time or we didn’t think that we needed to sort through them. We just were tasked with – to pack up.”
Interview excerpts also detail the timeline of how the boxes ended up at the Penn Biden Center. After leaving the White House, the boxes were stored in a private office location for six months rented by the General Services Administration, and approximately one month in an office in the Chinatown neighborhood in Washington, DC, until the Penn Biden Center was ready.
Later in the excerpts of her transcript provided to CNN, Chung described how she unpacked once the boxes finally made it to the Penn Biden Center.
“Well, there were - like those boxes with the Cancer Moonshot and some of the policy papers, I knew. You know, we unpacked those. And we also unpacked some of the boxes with - you know, the Vice President loves photos of his family, so just to make his office look nice, we unpacked those and put those out” Chung said according to the transcript.
Asked if she studied each file she decided to unpack, Chung said, “barely. We just picked up the file folder from the boxes and put it in the cabinet.”
Although Chung said she did not study or sort the files, she was able to describe to investigators that many of the boxes she packed included a jumble of Biden’s personal effects, including condolence letters about his late son Beau Biden. There were policy folders related to the Affordable Care Act and Cancer Moonshot, as well as books, photos and challenge coins, Chung testified.
“So, it wasn’t just all documents,” Chung said.
The policy and personal documents were, according to Chung, ones Biden cared about but not necessarily things he looked at on a daily basis.
Refuting conspiracy theories
Chung’s testimony excerpts also directly refute claims not only by chairman Comer but also Trump, who has sought to highlight Chung’s ethnicity as probable cause for suspicion.
“In a Newsmax interview on January 24, 2023, Chairman Comer amplified baseless, xenophobic, and racist conspiracy theories and attempted to tie Ms. Chung to the Chinese Communist Party,” the memo states.
The memo notes that Comer, the next day in an interview with Fox News, “repeated the same bigoted conspiracy theory” when asked about Chung’s role in “overseeing the packing” of presidential documents.
In her interview, Chung told the committee she does not have a relationship with the Chinese Communist Party. Asked whether she was invited to sit for a voluntary interview to discuss the Chinese Community Party or classified documents found at the Penn Biden Center, Chung said, “I hope it’s regarding the documents.”
Chung’s testimony, and a separate letter from her attorney, also debunk claims that she was hired by Hunter Biden with the intention of having her pack up the documents.
“As you well know from reading the relevant emails, Ms. Chung was not hired by the Vice President for the purpose of helping with moving documents. She was hired as an Assistant to the Vice President responsible for office affairs,” a letter from Chung’s attorney to Comer states.
The letter notes that Chung began working for Biden in 2012, years before she was packing up documents.
“For you to say she got the job ‘to help with the Biden family moving documents at the recommendation of Hunter Biden; and further that you expect to pursue some bizarre notion that Hunter Biden recommended her because of a purported interest in documents indicates to us the real possibility that you do not intend to treat Ms. Chung fairly,” Chung’s lawyer wrote.
In her committee interview, Chung also said she was not aware of Hunter Biden ever having access to classified documents at either the White House or the Penn Biden Center.
Chung is one of only a handful of witnesses known to have been interviewed in the Justice Department’s probe of classified documents found in Biden’s home and office. She sat down with prosecutors in January shortly before Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur as a special counsel to oversee the investigation.
Chung was interviewed by prosecutors during a preliminary review of the matter handled by former Chicago US Attorney John Lausch. According to Garland, the National Archives informed a DOJ prosecutor on November 4 that the White House had made the Archives aware of documents with classified markings that had been found at Biden’s think tank and he subsequently tapped Trump-appointed Lausch to conduct a review of the matter.
Chung’s lawyer has subsequently been contacted by Hur’s office, but has not been asked to sit for another interview.
Chung handed over more than 100 pages of documents to the House Oversight Committee and told congressional investigators that she had previously provided the Justice Department with the same emails and text messages she provided the committee.
Chung told the committee she has fully cooperated with the ongoing federal investigation. Asked whether anyone told Chung not to cooperate with any federal investigations, she told the committee, “No.”
This story has been updated with additional reaction.