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Biden says he was "surprised" classified documents were found at Penn Biden Center office

Biden responds to classified document news
Biden says he was "surprised" classified documents were found in former office 02:40

President Biden on Tuesday responded for the first time to CBS News' reporting that documents marked classified were found at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C., saying he was "surprised" to learn there were any government documents at the office, which was opened after he served as vice president.

"People know I take classified documents, classified information seriously," Mr. Biden said during a press conference at the North American Leaders' Summit in Mexico City, Mexico. "When my lawyers were clearing out my office at the University of Pennsylvania, they set up an office for me — when I — the four years after being vice president, I was a professor at Penn. They found some documents in a box, in a locked cabinet, at least a closet. And as soon as they did, they realized there were several classified documents in that box."

"And they did what they should have done," the president continued. "They immediately called the Archives—immediately called the Archives, turned them over to the Archives, and I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn that there were any government records that were taken there to that office."

The president also said he's unaware of the contents of the documents.

"But I don't know what's in the documents, I've—my lawyers have not suggested I ask what documents they were. I've turned over the boxes, they've turned over the boxes to the Archives, and we're cooperating fully, we're cooperating fully with the review, which I hope will be finished soon. And there will be more detail at that time." 

As CBS News reported Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland has assigned the U.S. attorney in Chicago to review the documents, according to two sources with knowledge of the inquiry. The roughly 10 documents are from President Biden's vice-presidential office at the center, the sources said, and CBS News has learned the FBI is also involved in the U.S. attorney's inquiry. CBS News has learned those documents were marked with varying levels of classification including some that were designated highly classified.

The story broke while the president was abroad for the annual summit with his Mexican and Canadian counterparts. 

Personal attorneys for the president identified the material on Nov. 2, days before the midterm elections, Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president confirmed. Sauber said that on the same day the material was discovered, Nov. 2, the White House counsel's office notified the National Archives, which took possession of the materials the following morning.

The Republican-led House Committee on Oversight and Accountability has launched an investigation into the documents marked classified that were found at the private office once used by Mr. Biden. In a letter to Stuart Delery, the White House counsel, Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, of Kentucky, wrote the committee "is concerned that President Biden has compromised (intelligence) sources and methods with his own mishandling of classified documents." 

GOP Rep. James Comer on Biden documents: "It appears that it's another cover-up" 07:57

Comer has asked the White House to turn over all records and communications related to the material marked as classified in Mr. Biden's personal office, including the classified documents themselves, by Jan. 24. 

Comer told CBS News Tuesday evening that "it appears that it's another cover-up. And we just have a lot of questions with respect to how Biden's been treated verses how Donald Trump was treated."

"We simply want to know the same things we asked when Mar-a-Lago was raided," Comer said. "Who has which documents? What level of classification are we talking about here? How many documents? And what was the process involved with making the decision to raid Mar-a-Lago, versus the decision to apparently do nothing with President Biden?"

— CBS News' Arden Farhi, Adriana Diaz, Andy Triay and Kathryn Watson contributed to this report 

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