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White House's response to Biden documents frustrates Democrats inside and outside the West Wing

More classified documents found at Biden's home
More classified documents found at Biden's home, White House says 03:04

Washington — Over the course of the week, West Wing staffers, officials across the Biden administration and Democratic Party officials more broadly expressed frustration to CBS News with how the White House has explained to the general public the discovery of documents with classified markings at President Biden's former office and his home in Delaware.

Those who spoke to CBS News, who were granted anonymity to speak frankly about the situation and not upset their professional relationships, believe the decision not to disclose the discovery of the documents sooner undercuts the president's precious vows of transparency and professional management of the government.

And they are concerned that, with a special counsel investigation now underway, the White House will be severely limited in what it can say, making it unable to confirm even basic details.

"They're trying to put lipstick on a pig," one Democrat close to the White House said Friday. "The problem is this week they got handed 50 pigs and one stick of lipstick."

A Democratic Party official from the Northeast aligned closely with the president and his senior staff added, "There's no real equivalency between the Trump document situation and Biden's. However, why in the world didn't they get the story out earlier, like before the holidays? And why didn't they get the full story out at once, instead of drip, drip, drip with each new discovery of documents? Put simply, it was not handled well at all."

Political fallout of a second batch of documents discovered at Biden's home 03:06

Some House Democrats are expressing their concerns with the situation more openly.

"That shouldn't have happened. It needs to be investigated and it is being investigated," Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat from California, said Saturday on MSNBC. "So we will have to wait and find out all of the details and I'm confident that we will get all of the details. So, I am sure he is unhappy about it, I haven't spoken to him but who would be happy about this?"

More broadly, Rep. Matt Cartwright, a moderate Democrat who represents the president's hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania, said on Fox News the federal government has "got to review how departing presidents and vice presidents are going about organizing the archiving of their documents both classified and unclassified because this can't go on."

"Whether it's President Trump leaving office whether it's Vice President Biden leaving office, you're talking about staffers who are all lining up, they're rewriting their resumes, they're sending them out for new jobs, they're not thinking about, you know, business at hand, it seems to me," he added.

In a statement Saturday, the president's personal attorney, Bob Bauer, defended the public disclosure of the discovery of the materials, saying his team has "attempted to balance the importance of public transparency where appropriate with the established norms and limitations necessary to protect the investigation's integrity. These considerations require avoiding the public release of detail relevant to the investigation while it is ongoing."

In a separate statement, the office of the White House counsel, which is tasked with representing the president on official matters, said it would be referring future press inquiries on the details of the ongoing investigation and discovery of the materials to the Justice Department.

Many Democrats are especially sensitive to media reports that compare and contrast the discovery of the materials at Mr. Biden's former office and Delaware estate and the monthslong attempts by the National Archives to reclaim hundreds of classified documents from former President Donald Trump.

"Comparing Biden's cooperation to Trump's obstruction is like comparing apples and arsenic," Kyle Herrig, executive director of the Congressional Integrity Project, wrote on Friday.

The Democrat-aligned group is designed as an outside force to support the president and congressional Democrats amid the forthcoming barrage of House Republican oversight investigations.

Herrig sent updated suggested talking points Friday to prominent party activists and frequent television guests, urging them to say that the president "is cooperating fully" while Trump "repeatedly obstructed efforts to retrieve sensitive documents to the point the Department of Justice had to obtain and execute a search warrant."

Herrig characterized the Biden and Trump cases respectively as, "Cooperation vs Obstruction. Misplaced vs Stolen. Voluntary vs Subpoena. Immediate vs Search Warrant."

Another Democrat who advised Mr. Biden's 2020 campaign and has worked in campaign politics across the South and West for decades described the situation now facing the president as "hypocritical," given Mr. Biden's past denunciations of Trump's handling of classified information.

But this Democrat said the White House was "sharp" in its response to positive economic data this week showing a further reduction in inflation and growing Republican calls to cut federal entitlement programs in exchange for raising the nation's debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Friday needs to occur by early June.

Keeping focused on building up the economy should buoy the president's political standing, this Democrat said. "Does the American public really care about the files in Trump's mansion or Biden's garage? Don't think so. I think they care more about the price of a carton of eggs."

Jane Chick contributed reporting to this story.

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