White House lawyers say Biden’s ‘personal residence is personal’ after Republicans demand more information about searches.
No visitor logs exist for the residence of US President Joe Biden where files with classified markings were recently uncovered, the White House’s legal counsel has said, after Republicans demanded that such records be released.
“Like every President across decades of modern history, his personal residence is personal,” the White House Counsel’s office said in a statement on Monday.
“But upon taking office, President Biden restored the norm and tradition of keeping White House visitors logs, including publishing them regularly, after the previous administration ended them.”
The Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee had demanded visitor logs for Biden’s house in Wilmington, Delaware after classified documents were found in the Democratic president’s office and garage.
“Without a list of individuals who have visited his residence, the American people will never know who had access to these highly sensitive documents,” Representative James Comer said in a letter to White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain dated Sunday.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland announced last week that he was appointing Robert Hur, a former US attorney in Maryland, as special counsel to investigate Biden’s handling of the sensitive government documents.
The move came after a “small number” of classified documents dating back to the administration of former US President Barack Obama were found at his Delaware home. Files with classified markings from Biden’s time as vice president also were uncovered in November at his former office at a think-tank in Washington, DC.
Lawyers for the US president said on Saturday that five additional pages were found at the Wilmington residence and handed over to the authorities.
The White House has said it immediately turned all the documents over to the US Department of Justice, adding that it is “fully cooperating” to ensure they are properly handled.
But the discoveries have created a political headache for Biden with Republicans accusing him of hypocrisy after he criticised his predecessor, Donald Trump, for his own alleged mishandling of classified documents.
The Department of Justice is investigating Trump’s handling of classified files that he retained at his personal residence, Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, after leaving the White House in January 2021.
But many experts have said the difference between the two scenarios is that Biden’s team immediately surrendered the files whereas US authorities needed to get a subpoena to retrieve documents from Trump’s home.
Still, GOP legislators have sought to compare the Biden documents case with that of Trump.
Comer, the Republican lawmaker, referred to Biden’s residence as a “crime scene” during an interview with CNN’s State of the Union programme on Sunday – though he acknowledged that it was not clear whether laws were broken.
“My concern is that the special counsel was called for, but yet hours after that we still had the president’s personal attorneys, who have no security clearance, still rummaging around the president’s residence, looking for things — I mean that would essentially be a crime scene, so to speak,” he said.
Meanwhile, Comer said he would not seek visitor logs for Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, where more than 100 classified documents – some of them labelled top secret – were found in an FBI search in August.
“I don’t feel like we need to spend a whole lot of time because the Democrats have done that for the past six years,” he said in the CNN interview.
There is no legal requirement that US presidents disclose the names of visitors who come to their homes or to the White House.
However, the Biden administration reinstated disclosures of official guests to the White House, releasing its first batch of records in May 2021, after Trump suspended the practice shortly after he took office in 2017.