Past Presidents & VP’s Asked to Check for Classified Documents

January 27, 2023

The National Archives on Thursday asked former U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents to recheck their personal records for possible classified documents following discoveries on the personal properties of President Biden, former President Trump and former Vice President Pence.

The Archives sent a letter Thursday to representatives of Donald Trump, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan, and to former Vice Presidents Pence, Biden, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Dan Quayle, in an attempt  to ensure compliance with the Presidential Records Act (PRA). 

Former President Jimmy Carter did not receive a letter from the Archives, since he is technically exempt from the PRA. Though Carter signed the PRA into existence, it did not become effective until he left office.

Congress passed the PRA in 1978. It states that any records—classified or otherwise—created or received by the President as part of his constitutional, statutory, or ceremonial duties are the property of the United States government and will be managed by the National Archives at the end of the Administration.

A lawyer for Pence discovered about a dozen documents marked classified at his Carmel, IN home earlier this week, prompting an immediate review by the FBI and the DOJ of the documents and how they ended up in the former Vice President’s residence.

That revelation came in the wake of discoveries of classified materials at President Biden’s  private office and residence. Biden voluntarily agreed to an FBI search last Friday of his home in Wilmington, DE, which uncovered six items in addition to the materials previously found  at the residence and his private office. 

This followed an August FBI search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence that uncovered hundreds of documents marked classified, which prompted a legal back-and-forth between the former President and the DOJ.

In November Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed veteran career prosecutor Jack Smith as special counsel to determine, among his duties, whether criminal charges should be brought against Trump over his actions surrounding the documents, and this month Garland appointed a special counsel, former U.S. Attorney Robert Hur, in the Biden case.

It’s against federal law to have classified documents at an unauthorized location, but it’s only a criminal act if it’s done so intentionally.

When asked about the issue Thursday at an unrelated news conference, FBI Director Christopher Wray said that while he could not discuss any specific ongoing investigation, “We have had for quite a number of years any number of mishandling investigations. That is unfortunately a regular part of our counterintelligence division’s and counterintelligence program’s work.”

Spokespeople for many of the former leaders did not immediately respond to reporters’ requests for comment, nor did the White House.

However, Freddy Ford, the Chief of Staff to former President George W. Bush, responded to the Archives’ request to search for classified documents by replying, “Thank you for your note. We understand its purpose and remain confident that no such materials are in our possession.”

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