Numerous reporters on Wednesday hounded White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre to answer for a batch of classified documents found in the Washington office space of President Biden’s former institute.
Many of the reporters wanted to know why the public learned of the documents this week, despite them being found on Nov. 2, 2022 — just days ahead of the midterm elections.
‘That’s more than two months later,’ one reporter said of the news. ‘Why was the public not informed while the White House prepared a PR response for two months?’
Jean-Pierre said that Biden’s lawyers, upon discovery of the documents, alerted the White House Counsel’s office, who notified the National Archives and Records Administration — which took custody of the documents the next day.
‘They did the right thing by turning over the documents to the archives,’ Jean-Pierre said. ‘That’s what they did. Once they realized that they had them and they were there.’
Asked whether the White House would characterize the document mishap as a ‘mistake,’ Jean-Pierre replied vaguely that ‘this is an ongoing process.’
Another reporter asked for clarification on how exactly the documents got from the White House to Biden’s office. Jean-Pierre said it was ‘under review.’
At another point, Jean-Pierre appeared to suggest that she had not discussed the matter at all with the president, then later clarified: ‘We talked about the revelation of the documents, obviously, but about the documents itself, that is something that the president doesn’t even know. And I’m going to leave it there.’
Jean-Pierre had a particularly testy exchange with CBS News’ Ed O’Keefe, after he recalled Biden’s pledge shortly after inauguration that he would make mistakes and would sometimes need to be corrected.
‘So, you’re the one here talking to us about this. That’s why we’re asking. So, let’s just remember that,’ O’Keefe said.
‘Ed… we don’t need to have this. We work very well together. We don’t need to have this kind of confrontation,’ Jean-Pierre shot back.
Later on, Fox News’ White House correspondent Peter Doocy put it bluntly: ‘How could anyone be that irresponsible? Isn’t that what this president says about mishandling classified documents?’
‘The president spoke to this personally… he believes that classified documents and information should be taken seriously… And he was surprised to learn by any records,’ Jean-Pierre said.
President Biden said he was surprised when informed that government records were found by his attorneys at his former office space in Washington. He was asked about the issue after the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee requested that the U.S. intelligence community conduct a ‘damage assessment’ of potentially classified documents.
Speaking to reporters in Mexico City on Tuesday, Biden said his attorneys ‘did what they should have done’ when they immediately called the National Archives about the discovery at the offices of the Penn Biden Center. He kept an office there after he left the vice presidency in 2017 until shortly before he launched his Democratic presidential campaign in 2019.
The White House confirmed that the Department of Justice was reviewing ‘a small number of documents with classified markings’ found at the office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.