▶ Watch Video: Special counsel appointed to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents

Washington — Revelations that documents bearing classification markings were found at President Biden’s former office and his Wilmington, Del., house has prompted scrutiny of the president and the appointment of a special counsel by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

The White House confirmed earlier this week that roughly 10 documents dating back to the Obama administration were discovered by Mr. Biden’s personal lawyers at the Penn Biden Global Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement on Nov. 2, and disclosed Thursday that a “small number” were found in the garage at the president’s home in Wilmington after his lawyers searched the locations where files from his vice-presidential office may have been shipped following his tenure in the Obama White House.

But left unclear by the White House was what transpired between the initial discovery on Nov. 2 and Monday, Jan. 9, when CBS News reported that the documents had been found, as well as when the second batch was found in Wilmington. What’s in the documents is unknown, and the level of classification of the second batch is also not known. However, the documents in the first batch were marked with varying levels of classification, including some that were designated highly classified.

Garland filled in some of the details Thursday, Jan. 12, when he delivered a brief statement announcing his appointment of Robert Hur, a former federal prosecutor, as special counsel to oversee the investigation into the handling of the documents.

Here is the timeline of events surrounding the discovery of government documents found in Mr. Biden’s possession:


Nov. 2: Mr. Biden’s personal lawyers find roughly 10 documents with classification markings in a locked closet at the Penn Biden Center. The attorneys inform the White House Counsel’s Office, which then notifies the National Archives and Records Administration. (statement of Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, Jan. 9)

Nov. 3: The Archives takes possession of the materials discovered at the think tank. (Sauber statement, Jan. 9)

Nov. 4: The Archives’ Office of the Inspector General contacts a prosecutor at the Justice Department to inform the department about the discovered documents. (Garland announcement of special counsel, Jan. 12)

Nov. 9: The FBI initiates an assessment under its standard protocol to understand whether classified information has been mishandled in violation of federal law. (Garland announcement, Jan. 12)

Nov. 14: Garland assigns John Lausch, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to conduct an initial investigation to determine whether a special counsel should be appointed. (Garland announcement, Jan. 12)

Dec. 20: Mr. Biden’s personal lawyers tell Lausch that more documents with classification markings were found in the garage at the president’s Wilmington home. The documents were among other records from Mr. Biden’s tenure as vice president. (Garland announcement, Jan. 12)

The FBI goes to the residence and secures the documents. (Garland announcement, Jan. 12)


Jan. 5: Lausch briefs the attorney general on the results of his initial investigation and advises that further investigation by a special counsel is warranted. 

Garland concludes that based on Lausch’s investigation, under the special counsel regulations, it’s in the public interest to appoint a special counsel. (Garland announcement, Jan. 12)

Jan. 9: CBS News first reports that roughly 10 documents with classified markings were found at Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential office at the Penn Biden Center. 

“The documents were not the subject of any previous request or inquiry by the Archives. Since that discovery, the president’s personal attorneys have cooperated with the Archives and the Department of Justice in a process to ensure that any Obama-Biden Administration records are appropriately in the possession of the Archives.” (Sauber statement, Jan. 9)

Jan. 11: Mr. Biden’s lawyers complete a search of his Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach residences for other government documents that may have been shipped there during the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration in 2017. (Sauber statement, Jan. 12)

The search stemmed from the discovery of the materials at the Penn Biden Center, Sauber said.

Jan. 12: Mr. Biden’s personal lawyers call Lausch and notify him that an additional document marked classified was found at the president’s home in Wilmington. (Garland announcement, Jan. 12)

Sauber says in his Jan. 12 statement that the president’s lawyers found among “personal and political papers a small number” of additional Obama-era documents marked classified in a storage space in the garage at Mr. Biden’s Wilmington home. He says a single, one-page document was “discovered among stored materials in an adjacent room,” and no documents were found at Mr. Biden’s residence in Rehoboth Beach.

According to Sauber, the president’s lawyers searched the Wilmington and Rehoboth Beach residences — the other places where records from Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential office may have been shipped during the transition from the Obama to the Trump administration — after the government documents were found at the Penn Biden Center.

Garland announces he has appointed Hur as special counsel to oversee the probe involving the documents and signs an order authorizing him to investigate whether any person or entity violated the law in connection with the matter.

The order allows Hur to examine “possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records discovered” at the Penn Biden Center and Mr. Biden’s Wilmington residence, “as well as any matters that arose from the initial investigation or may arise directly from the special counsel’s investigation.

Hur is also authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation and to refer to the appropriate U.S. attorney “discrete prosecutions that may arise from the special counsel’s investigation.”

Following Garland’s announcement, Sauber says in a new statement that the White House will cooperate with the special counsel’s probe and reiterates that Mr. Biden “takes classified information and materials seriously.”

“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 says.

Rob Legare and Arden Farhi contributed to this report