White House to update top Republicans on recovered classified files

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Biden administration officials are giving top congressional leaders a briefing on classified documents found in the possession of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, two sources familiar with the discussions said.

The officials had not yet scheduled a briefing because, they said, the priority is an intelligence briefing to those leaders on developments and diplomatic friction with China over an alleged spy balloon seen hovering over the US before that one was shot down on Saturday, the sources. saying.

The goal was to complete the briefing on rebel documents by the end of the week, the two officials said. The document briefing would be for the congressional «Gang of Eight,» top leaders of the House and Senate and of congressional intelligence committees, the officials said.

The group represents congressional leaders who have the most access to classified information and who aim to shape US foreign and domestic policy as they are armed with sensitive information.

Some congressional leaders, including Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, have been dissatisfied with the Justice Department’s inability so far to provide them with more information about what the Trump documents cover.

Lawmakers argue they can’t fix what’s wrong with the country’s system for classifying and storing such material until they have a better idea of ​​what the off-limits material covers. One solution: Some senators wanted the Intelligence Committee to issue subpoenas to the law enforcement arm that usually does this, the Justice Department, seeking that information.

However, the showdown could have been avoided on Sunday with the news that the Biden administration plans to brief intelligence leaders in Congress.

Both the documents and the Chinese balloons are US intelligence business, and the law requires a White House briefing for the House and Senate intelligence committees. The chair, however, can limit the information to a handful of committee leaders, as necessary.

Republicans in Congress have clamored for a briefing on documents seized from Trump’s home in Palm Beach, Florida, on August 8 as part of the FBI’s criminal investigation into apparently mishandled classified material, some marked » top secret».

Agents said they seized approximately 11,000 records, about 100 of them marked as classified.

Trump has said the seizure was politically motivated and unnecessary. The National Archives and Records Administration, the legal custodian of the items, has attempted to recover the documents it believed were with Trump on several occasions since he left office in 2021. After a round of documents were returned from the private facilities of Trump, federal officials determined that there were more with the former president.

In June, Trump’s lawyers turned over 38 more classified documents and a signed statement saying that «all relevant documents have been turned over.» The FBI disagreed and sought a warrant, prompting a search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Palm Beach residence and resort.

Trump sued over the seizure, but his lawyers dropped the case after his appeal was rejected by the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The former president had asked for the US Supreme Court to intervene; He said no.

He maintained that the seized documents belonged to him. He also claimed that the FBI planted evidence to smear him. In any event, Trump said, he had the authority as president to declassify the material as he saw fit, even though there was no evidence or documentation of declassification.

Under federal law, official White House documents are federal property and must be turned over to the National Archives when a president leaves office.

Subsequently, classified items were found in Biden’s office at his think tank Penn Biden Center in Washington and at his home in Delaware and were returned, as well as at Pence’s residence in Indiana, which were returned. In both cases, the material was found by people working for the two former vice presidents after they decided to proactively search, to avoid the legal issues Trump has faced.

In January it was revealed that the National Archives had sent a letter asking staff members of living former presidents and vice presidents to search for materials that could be classified or owned by the government.

What the Biden administration will share in the update is unclear, one of the sources said. The disclosure plan was put together in response to bipartisan backlash because the director of national intelligence and the Justice Department failed to brief congressional intelligence leaders about the documents and their importance to US security.

On NBC’s «Meet the Press» Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, shared the news of the White House’s offer to brief the Gang of Eight.

“The Biden administration had not engaged at all with anyone who was in national security on the issue of threats from these documents,” he said. «It took Congress to step in and say, ‘We want a security threat [assessment].’ And then they tried to deny that they gave us the information of that [balloon] threat.»

Turner accused the Biden administration of using its obligation to brief top congressional leaders on intelligence matters to change the subject following Saturday’s downing of a suspected Chinese spy balloon that was over the Carolina coast at the time.

On Sunday, the balloon’s presence over the United States and subsequent apparent tensions in a diplomatic back-and-forth with China were seen by Republicans as bad news for Biden. Some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., characterized the administration’s actions Saturday as «leadership.»

«What’s interesting is that at the time this balloon was made public, I received a notice not from the administration that I’m going to receive information on this balloon, but now they have to go to Congress to talk to us about the documents of Donald Trump.» Turner said. «You can see they want to change the news.»

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