Biden administration officials are briefing top congressional leaders on classified documents found in the possession of President Joe Biden, former President Donald Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence, two sources familiar with the discussions said.
The officials had not yet scheduled a briefing because, they said, priority will be given to an intelligence briefing for those leaders on developments and diplomatic friction with China over a suspected spy balloon hovering over the US before one was shot down on Saturday, the sources said.
The aim was to have the briefing on wayward documents ready by the end of the week, the two officials said. The document briefing would be for Congress’ “Gang of Eight,” top leaders of the House and Senate and of congressional intelligence committees, the officials said.
The group represents those congressional leaders who have the most access to classified information and who want to shape US foreign and domestic policy since they are armed with sensitive information.
Some congressional leaders, including Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, expressed dissatisfaction with the Justice Department’s inability thus far to provide them with more information about what the Trump documents cover.
Lawmakers argue they can’t fix what’s wrong with the country’s system for classifying and storing such material until they have a better idea of what the out-of-bounds material includes. One solution: Some senators wanted the Intelligence Committee to issue subpoenas to the law enforcement agency that usually does this—the Justice Department—to seek that information.
However, the deadlock could have been averted on Sunday by news that the Biden administration plans to notify congressional intelligence chiefs.
Both the documents and the Chinese balloons are US intelligence matters, and a White House briefing before the House and Senate intelligence committees is required by law. However, the president can limit the information to a handful of committee leaders if necessary.
Republicans in Congress have pushed for a briefing on the documents seized Aug. 8 from Trump’s Palm Beach, Florida, home as part of the FBI’s criminal investigation into allegedly mishandled classified material, some marked as “top secret”.
Agents said they seized about 11,000 files, about 100 of which were marked as classified.
Trump has said the seizure was politically motivated and unnecessary. The National Archives and Record Administration, the lawful custodian of the items, has tried multiple times since his departure in 2021 to recover the documents it thought belonged to Trump. were more with the former president.
In June, Trump’s lawyers turned over 38 other classified documents and a signed statement saying “all responsive documents had been turned over.” The FBI disagreed and requested a search warrant, which led to a search of Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s residence and resort in Palm Beach.
Trump sued the seizure, but his lawyers dropped the case after his appeal was rejected by the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals. The former president had asked the US Supreme Court to intervene; it refused.
He claimed that the seized documents belonged to him. He also claimed that the FBI planted evidence to smear him. Anyway, Trump said, he had the authority as president to release material as he saw fit, even if there was no proof or documentation of release.
Under federal law, official White House records are federal property and must be turned over to the National Archives when a president leaves office.
Subsequently, classified items were found in Biden’s office at his Washington think tank Penn Biden Center and at his home in Delaware and were returned, as well as Pence’s residence in Indiana, which were returned. In both cases, the material was found by people who worked for the two former vice presidents after they decided to proactively search — to avoid the legal questions Trump faced.
In January, it was revealed that the National Archives had sent a letter asking former living presidents and vice presidents to search for material that could be classified or owned by the government.
What the Biden administration will share in the update is not clear, one of the sources said. The briefing plan was created in response to bipartisan backlash because the director of national intelligence and the Justice Department failed to brief congressional intelligence chiefs on the documents and their importance to U.S. security.
On NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Turner, R-Ohio, shared news of the White House’s offer to brief the Gang of Eight.
“The Biden administration had not involved anyone involved in national security at all with the issue of threats from these documents,” he said. “It took Congress to step in and say, ‘We want a security threat [assessment].’ And then they tried to deny giving us the briefing [balloon] threat.”
Turner accused the Biden administration of using its obligation to brief top congressional leaders on intelligence issues to change the subject after the downing of a suspected spy balloon from China that was over the Carolina coast at the time.
On Sunday, the balloon’s presence over the U.S. and subsequent tensions manifested in a diplomatic back-and-forth with China were tossed as bad news for Biden by Republicans. Some Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., characterized the administration’s actions Saturday as “leadership.”
“What’s interesting is that the minute this balloon went public, I got a message, not from the administration that I’m going to get a briefing on this balloon, but they should now rush to Congress and talk to us. about Donald Trump’s documents.” Turner said. “You can see they want to change the news.”