New York: According to Mike Pence's attorney, last week, documents with classified markings were found in his Indiana home. This is the latest in a series of recoveries of papers intended to be handled with the utmost sensitivity from the homes of current and former top US officials.
Pence's attorney, Greg Jacob, wrote in a letter to the National Archives that was provided to The Associated Press that "a small number of documents," taken into FBI custody last Thursday, "were inadvertently boxed and transported" to the former vice president's home at the end of the previous administration.
Prior to a search last week, Pence, according to him, was "unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence." He added that Pence "understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information" and stands ready to cooperate with "any appropriate inquiry."
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The information was made public at the same time that the Department of Justice was already looking into the discovery of documents with classification markings in President Joe Biden's Delaware home, his former office in Washington, D.C., and former President Donald Trump's Florida property. Republican Trump has already declared his candidature, while Democrat Biden has hinted he'll run again, and Vice President Pence has been considering a 2024 run that would pit him against his former employer, Republican Trump.
The most recent revelation forces Pence, who had previously insisted that he adhered to strict protocols regarding classified documents, into the discussion surrounding the handling of sensitive information by government officials who have held the highest positions.
Approximately 300 documents with classified markings, including those at the top secret level, were found at Trump's Mar-a-Lago and are currently the subject of a criminal investigation. Whether Trump or anyone else should be charged with illegal possession of those records or with attempting to obstruct the lengthy criminal investigation is being debated by officials. After classified documents from his time as a senator and in the Obama administration were discovered at his properties, Biden is also the focus of a special counsel investigation.
On his social media page, Trump, who maintains his innocence, responded to the latest development: "Mike Pence is an innocent man. Never in his life did he intentionally do anything dishonest. He must be left alone! The argument between Trump and Pence arose from Pence's refusal to support Trump's efforts to annul the results of the 2020 election.
Although a very different situation, the Pence revelation may support Trump and Biden's positions, who have attempted to downplay the significance of the discoveries at their homes. The federal government's cumbersome system for safeguarding the millions of classified documents it creates each year is further highlighted by the discovery of secret documents at the homes of all three men.
The former vice president had "engaged outside counsel, with experience in handling classified documents" to review records stored at his home on January 16 "out of an abundance of caution" amid the commotion over the discovery of documents at Biden's home, according to a letter from Pence's attorney, Jacob.
The classified Pence documents, according to Jacob, were put in a locked safe right away. According to a follow-up letter from the attorney dated Jan. 22 and dated Jan. 19, FBI agents went to the home that evening, Jan. 19, at 9:30 p.m., to collect the documents that had been secured. Pence was in Washington at the time for a gathering.
The letter states that a total of four boxes containing copies of administration papers were found, including two boxes containing "courtesy copies of vice presidential papers" and two boxes containing "a small number" of papers with classified markings. The National Archives will receive those boxes on Monday, according to the arrangements made.
Pence's team informed congressional leaders of the find on Tuesday.
A Pence aide claimed that although the boxes were taped shut and not thought to have been opened since they were packed, they were not kept in a secure location. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were discussing sensitive information, said that the former vice president's staff also searched the Washington office of his advocacy group last week but did not find any additional documents.
The majority of the items discovered in the boxes were from Pence's vice presidential residence at the Naval Observatory; neither the vice president's office nor its attorneys would have handled the packing of these items. The person claimed that additional materials came from a West Wing office drawer.
The National Archives declined to respond to inquiries about the finding. A spokesperson for the Justice Department also declined to comment, and Pence's attorney did not immediately reply to an email requesting clarification.
Pence claimed to have left office with no classified information when he told the Associated Press in August. If he had remembered any of this information, he would have responded, "No, not to my knowledge."
Pence talked about his office's "very formal process" for handling classified information and the measures his lawyers had taken to make sure none was shared with him in a recent interview with Fox Business.
The attorneys on my staff reviewed all the paperwork at the White House, in our offices there, and at the vice president's home before we left to make sure that any documents that needed to be turned over to the National Archives, including classified documents, were turned over. So, in that regard, we went through a very careful process, Pence said.
Members of the Senate intelligence committee expressed their shock over the handling of documents by high-ranking US officials on Capitol Hill.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican, pointed out that only locked bags are used to transport classified documents out of the committee's offices.
Except for a secure means of transport between such facilities, "in my book, it's never permissible to take classified documents outside of a secure facility," he said.
Republican Mike Turner, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, said he intended to ask for a formal intelligence review and damage assessment.
I don't know how anybody ends up with classified documents, added Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, another potential 2024 candidate: "Every classified document I've ever seen has a big 'Classified' on it."
Sen. Ron Wyden, a prominent member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and a Democrat from Oregon, drew attention to broader issues with the classification system, lamenting that it "is at the point where there is so much out there that it is hard to determine what ought to be classified, and then it is hard to determine what should be declassified."
Republicans pushed for a search of former President Barack Obama's personal files in the meantime.
A National Archives statement from 2022 stated that the organisation took control of all of his records after he left office and "is not aware of any missing boxes of presidential records from the Obama administration." An Obama spokesperson cited that statement.
All of the classified documents that the former presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Vice President Dick Cheney had when they left the White House, according to their representatives, had been given to NARA.
Former Trump secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who is considering a run for the GOP nomination in 2024, told the AP in August that he had not taken any classified information with him after leaving the administration.
On the other hand, he stated on Tuesday on the Fox News channel, "When you're in the executive branch, you have these documents in your home. One could picture a note getting lost or becoming stuck. I think that might have been the case.