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GOP-led House panel: White House employee inspected Biden office where classified papers were found over a year earlier than previously known

The Republican-led House Oversight Committee says it has evidence that a White House employee inspected President Biden's papers stored at the Penn Biden Center in March 2021, far earlier than previously known. The panel wants to interview several current and former senior White House officials in connection with its widening investigation into Mr. Biden's handling of classified documents that stem from his time as vice president. 

There is no indication that White House employees visiting the Penn Biden Center noticed or removed documents marked classified among Mr. Biden's papers prior to their discovery on Nov. 2, 2022. 

In a letter to White House counsel Edward Siskel obtained by CBS News, committee Chairman James Comer, Republican of Kentucky, said the timeline of events provided by Mr. Biden's personal attorney "omitted months of communications, planning, and coordinating."

According to the letter, a Penn Biden Center employee told the committee that on March 18, 2021, senior White House aide Annie Tomasini "[took] inventory of President Biden's documents and materials" stored at the center, where he had a private office after his vice presidency. 

The witness also told investigators that on Oct. 13, 2022, Ashley Williams, deputy director of Oval Office Operations, removed "a few" of Mr. Biden's boxes. 

The White House has said all relevant documents were moved to either the National Archives or the Justice Department. Bob Bauer, Mr. Biden's personal attorney, has previously said classified documents were first uncovered at the Penn Biden Center on Nov. 2, 2022. Additional documents with classification markings were found at the president's Delaware home in January.

The committee, which has conducted three witness interviews, says on five occasions, White House employees, including former White House Counsel Dana Remus, and the president's former assistant Kathy Chung, a current Department of Defense employee, went to the Penn Biden Center to take inventory, pack up or remove materials. These visits occurred between March 2021 and mid-October 2022.

The committee has so far declined to release full transcripts of the witness interviews.

Comer's letter continues, "There is no reasonable explanation as to why this many White House employees and lawyers were so concerned with retrieving boxes they believed only contained personal documents and materials." 

In a sign that the committee's investigation is broadening, it is requesting transcribed interviews with Remus, Williams, Tomasini, Anthony Bernal, a top adviser to the first lady, and Katie Reilly, a West Wing aide.  It is also asking for documentation and communication related to the documents. The committee has already interviewed Chung, who was then-Vice President Biden's assistant. 

A spokeswoman for Democrats on the House Oversight Committee said in a statement, "Former President Trump's willful retention of hundreds of highly classified documents, his defiance of court-ordered subpoenas, his reported disclosure of our country's most sensitive national security information, and false statements to law enforcement should worry the Chair of a congressional committee with jurisdiction over government records."

She continued, "Instead Chairman Comer is using the Committee to focus on President Biden whose complete cooperation with the Special Counsel's investigation stands in stark contrast, including voluntarily participating in a two-day interview with the Special Counsel, and opening the doors to his Penn Biden Center office and private residence to investigators."

An attorney for Remus and a spokesperson for Bauer did not respond to a request for comment. 

Chung's attorney, William W. Taylor, had no comment.

Oversight Committee staff members have not reviewed the more than two dozen classified documents in question, but plan to make a request to do so soon, according to a committee aide. 

Comer's request for interviews and documents comes days after special counsel Robert Hur personally interviewed the president as part of the Justice Department's investigation into the same matter. That investigation, which began in January, is ongoing and the interview with Mr. Biden may be a sign that it is nearing a conclusion. 

Mr. Biden has pledged full cooperation with Hur's investigation. The White House declined comment on Comer's letter, citing the ongoing special counsel investigation.

In January, White House lawyer Richard Sauber told CBS News that "a small number of documents with classified markings" were found when Mr. Biden's personal attorneys "were packing files housed in a locked closet to prepare to vacate office space at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, D.C."

The Presidential Records Act requires all presidential and vice-presidential documents be turned over to the National Archives at the end of an administration's term. 

Former President Donald Trump faces 40 counts of illegally retaining classified material and obstructing efforts to retrieve it. He has pleaded not guilty. Oversight Committee Republicans have shown little interest in investigating Trump's handling of classified material.

Rob Legare contributed reporting.

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