Garland appoints special counsel in Biden documents investigation

By Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond, Adrienne Vogt, Matt Meyer and Aditi Sangal, CNN

Updated 8:28 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023
18 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
3:33 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

GOP House Oversight chair says appointment of special counsel won't stop committee from probe into Biden docs

From CNN's Zachary Cohen

US Rep. James Comer talks to a reporter on Capitol Hill on Thursday.
US Rep. James Comer talks to a reporter on Capitol Hill on Thursday. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

GOP Rep. James Comer, chair of the House Oversight Committee, said Thursday that the appointment of a special counsel will not stop his panel from investigating President Biden’s "mishandling of classified documents.”

“The National Archives and Records Administration, the White House, and the Department of Justice were aware of the classified documents stashed in a closet at the Penn Biden Center before the election, and now we’ve learned classified documents kept in President Biden’s garage were found in December,” Comer said in a statement. 

“There are many questions about why the Biden Administration kept this matter a secret from the public, who had access to the office and the residence, and what information is contained in these classified documents. Republicans will push for transparency, accountability, and answers for the American people,” he added.

2:55 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Blinken "surprised" to learn about discovery of classified documents, State Department spokesperson says

From CNN's Michael Conte

State Department spokesperson Ned Price briefs the media on Thursday.
State Department spokesperson Ned Price briefs the media on Thursday. (Pool)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was “surprised” to learn of classified documents discovered at the Penn Biden Center, where Blinken previously worked, according to State Department spokesperson Ned Price.

“Just as you heard from the president, the secretary was surprised to learn that there were any government records taken to that office,” Price said at a press briefing on Thursday.

Price said neither he nor Blinken would know if there were State Department documents among those files.

“Of course, that would not be anything I would know. It is not anything the secretary would know. As we've heard from the White House, it is not something that the president knows,” he said. “This is a matter that's being investigated, being looked at by the Department of Justice. We're going to let that proceed.”

He said that there are channels for the DOJ to speak to the State Department “on an investigative matter,” and those channels do not involve himself or “most people in this building.” 

“If there is a need, there will be, as you would, expect full cooperation,” he said.

Price did not say if anyone from the State Department had yet spoken to the newly appointed special counsel Robert Hur.

2:20 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

White House counsel confident that investigation will show documents were "inadvertently misplaced"

From CNN's MJ Lee

Richard Sauber, special counsel to President Biden, issued a statement following the appointment of a special counsel Rob Hur.

“We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake,” he said.

Hur served in the Trump administration as the US attorney in Maryland.

Some context: The special counsel announcement significantly escalates the existing inquiry, which started as a review handled by the US attorney in Chicago. This also increases the potential legal exposure for Biden, his aides and lawyers who handled sensitive government materials from his time as vice president. 

2:07 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Special counsel pledges to conduct Biden documents probe with "fair, impartial and dispassionate judgment"

Robert Hur issued a statement following his appointment by Attorney General Merrick Garland as special counsel in the Biden documents probe.

“I will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial, and dispassionate judgment. I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor, and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service,” he said.

2:50 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

CNN chief law enforcement analyst: The special counsel investigation will be focused on fact-finding

CNN chief law enforcement analyst John Miller talks to CNN's Bianna Golodryga on Thursday.
CNN chief law enforcement analyst John Miller talks to CNN's Bianna Golodryga on Thursday. (CNN)

Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to oversee the investigation into the classified documents — an endeavor that will most likely focus on fact-finding, CNN chief law enforcement analyst John Miller said.

Miller said that since the Mueller report highlighted the fact that a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime or indicted or brought to trial — the investigations effort into the potential criminality will be complicated.

"When you look at the special counsel's mandate — and there's potential crimes here about the storage and possession of classified documents — it's further complicated by the idea, and remember the Mueller report where in the first pages it said office of legal counsel, guidance from the Department of Justice, says a sitting president can't be charged with a crime or indicted or brought to trial," Miller said.

"So, that is going to throw a little bit of confusion into if they find criminality, then what? That would mean that the president would have to be impeached and then you know charged with a crime and so now. But they have to go through this process because, this is now going to be a fact-finding mission and those facts are going to have to be reported," he added.

2:27 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Former deputy FBI director: Appointment of special counsel in Biden case doesn't affect Trump investigations

Andrew McCabe, CNN senior law enforcement analyst, talks about Thursday's developments.
Andrew McCabe, CNN senior law enforcement analyst, talks about Thursday's developments. (CNN)

Appointing a special counsel to take over the investigation into the Obama-era classified documents found at President Joe Biden's home and former private office will not impact the investigation into former President Donald Trump and his handling of sensitive documents, according to Andrew McCabe, former deputy FBI director and CNN senior law enforcement analyst.

Special counsel Jack Smith is currently overseeing the criminal investigations into the retention of national defense information at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and parts of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.

While both of these cases deal with classified materials, it's important for the Department of Justice to "proceed where the facts take them."

"I think it's absolutely essential that DOJ approach the initiation of these investigations in the same way, with the same level of seriousness, and with the appointment of special counsels, which I think were appropriate in both cases," McCabe said following Garland's announcement to appoint special counsel Robert Hur on Thursday.

But that seriousness is the only thing these two cases have in common, McCabe said, adding, "these cases are entirely different, they should proceed where the facts take them."

"The facts, just the ones that we know so far in these cases, are very, very different," he said. "There's many more facts that we need to understand about the Biden situation, but these cases are very different from this point forward and either one could really end up with a declination or a recommendation to go forward," McCabe added.

Here's a look at how the Biden and Trump documents that were found compare:

1:54 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Robert Hur served in the Trump administration. Here's what his appointment means

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

US Attorney Robert Hur reacts during a news conference in Baltimore in November 2019.
US Attorney Robert Hur reacts during a news conference in Baltimore in November 2019. (Michael A. McCoy/Reuters/File)

Robert Hur, who has been appointed as a special counsel in President Biden's classified documents probe, served in the Trump administration as the US attorney in Maryland.

The well-known former prosecutor most recently has been a lawyer at the Gibson Dunn, a large corporate defense law firm. Earlier in his career, Hur worked in the Justice Department with FBI Director Christopher Wray.

The special counsel announcement significantly escalates the existing inquiry, which started as a review handled by the US attorney in Chicago. This also increases the potential legal exposure for Biden, his aides and lawyers who handled sensitive government materials from his time as vice president. 
By bringing on a special counsel, Garland is insulating himself from the politically sensitive case, though he'll still get the final say on whether to bring any charges. When that decision comes, no matter the outcome, it will surely become a major flashpoint in the 2024 presidential race. 

The development also further puts the Justice Department and FBI where they don't want to be — right in the middle of a presidential election for the third straight cycle.  

Since 2015, there have been near-constant FBI probes into presidents and major candidates: Hillary Clinton's emails; Trump's ties to Russia; his efforts to overturn the 2020 election and his hoarding of classified materials; and now Biden's handling of classified files.

1:40 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

What we know about special counsel Robert Hur

US Attorney Robert Hur arrives at US District Court in Baltimore in November 2019.
US Attorney Robert Hur arrives at US District Court in Baltimore in November 2019. (Steve Ruark/AP/File)

Robert Hur, who has been named by Attorney General Merrick Garland as special counsel in the probe into Obama-era documents found in President Joe Biden's personal home in Delaware, was described by Garland as having a "long and distinguished career as a prosecutor."

The well-known former prosecutor most recently has been a lawyer at Gibson Dunn, a large corporate defense law firm. Earlier in his career, Hur worked in the Justice Department with FBI Director Christopher Wray.

"In 2003, he joined the department's criminal division, where he worked on counterterrorism, corporate fraud and appellate matters. From 2007 until 2014, Mr. Hur served as an assistant US attorney for the district of Maryland, where he prosecuted matters ranging from violent crime to financial fraud," Garland said.

"In 2017, Mr. Hur rejoined the department as the principal associate deputy attorney general. In 2018, he was nominated and confirmed to serve as a US attorney for the district of Maryland. As US attorney, he supervised some of the department's more important national security, public corruption and other high-profile matters," Garland added.

Garland promised Hur would get "all the resources he needs."

John Miller, CNN chief law enforcement and intelligence analyst, said the selection of Hur is "particularly well thought-out."

Hur "made a name for himself as US attorney in Maryland, prosecuting the former mayor of Baltimore, the former police commissioner of Baltimore, delegates and a state senator ... He did two very significant investigations into the NSA — two employees, both of whom carried large amounts of classified documents out of the NSA," Miller added.

"He is very adept at how to navigate the care, handling, proper handling of classified information and where the lines are between the crime," he said.  

Hur attended Harvard and Stanford Law School. He is a member of the bars of Maryland and the District of Columbia.

1:40 p.m. ET, January 12, 2023

Garland lays out timeline of investigation into Biden classified documents so far

Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers his statement on Thursday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers his statement on Thursday. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorney General Merrick Garland detailed the timeline of the investigation into President Joe Biden’s potential mishandling of classified documents.

Here's what he said:

Nov. 4, 2022: The National Archives Office of Inspector General contacted a prosecutor at the Department of Justice in the evening. It informed him that the White House had notified the Archives that documents bearing classification markings were identified at the office of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement located in Washington, DC. That office was not authorized for storage of classified documents. The prosecutor was also advised that those documents had been secured in an Archives facility.

Nov. 9, 2022: The FBI commenced an assessment consistent with standard protocols to understand whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of federal law.

Nov. 14, 2022: Pursuant to Section 600.2B of the Special Counsel Regulations, Garland assigned US Attorney John Lausch Jr. to conduct an initial investigation to inform my decision whether to appoint a special counsel. 

"I selected him to conduct the initial investigation because I was confident his experience would ensure that it would be done professionally and expeditiously," he said.

Dec. 20, 2022: President Biden's personal counsel informed Mr. Lausch that additional documents bearing classified markings were identified in the garage of the president's private residence in Wilmington, Delaware. President Biden's counsel informed Mr. Lausch that those documents were among other records from the period of the president's service as vice president. The FBI went to the location and secured those documents.

Jan. 5, 2023: Lausch briefed Garland on the results of his initial investigation and advised that further investigation by a special counsel was warranted.

"Based on Mr. Lausch's initial investigation, I concluded that, under the special counsel regulations, it was in the public interest to appoint a special counsel," Garland said.

In the days since, while Mr. Lausch continued the investigation the department identified Mr. Hur for appointment to special counsel.

This morning, President Biden's personal counsel called Mr. Lausch and stated that an additional document bearing classification markings was identified at the president's personal residence in Wilmington, Delaware.