HomeUKPence documents discovery sparks scrutiny on US classification system – live

Pence documents discovery sparks scrutiny on US classification system – live

It started in August when the FBI carried out an unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and carted away boxes of what the government revealed were secret materials he should not have left the White House with.

It appeared the former president was in serious legal peril, particularly once it emerged that he’d sidestepped efforts by the National Archives to retrieve the materials, and after attorney general Merrick Garland said special counsel Jack Smith would look into the matter.

But then, in January, it was revealed Joe Biden had found classified documents from his time as vice president at a former office in Washington DC, and later at his home in Delaware. When it was revealed that the White House discovered this just prior to the November midterm elections but didn’t make the news public, Republicans pounced. Earlier this month, Garland announced the appointment of another special counsel, Robert Hur, to handle the investigation into the Biden case.

Then yesterday, news broke that the former vice president under Trump, Mike Pence, also found classified materials in his home in Indiana. That discovery has prompted something of a tonal shift in Washington, with both Democratic and Republican politicians now wondering if there isn’t a larger issue to be addressed with the government’s classification process – or perhaps its procedures for presidential transitions.

Key events

The day so far

Joe Biden has announced that the United States will send Ukraine its Abrams battle tank, as western allies agree to provide Kyiv with the armor it argues is necessary to defend against Russia’s assault. Back in Washington, lawmakers and experts are reacting to the cascade of classified document discoveries at the properties of former White House occupants, most recently former vice president Mike Pence’s home in Indiana.

Here’s what else has happened today thus far:

  • Barack Obama’s office wouldn’t say whether the former president planned to check if he had any classified material in his possession.

  • A Georgia district attorney says a decision on prosecuting people involved in Donald Trump’s campaign to overturn the state’s 2020 election result is “imminent”.

  • House speaker Kevin McCarthy has made good on his promise to boot two Democrats from the intelligence committee, and plans to seek a vote on removing a third from the foreign affairs committee.

Washington has long been concerned about provoking Russia through its supply of weapons to Ukraine.

Joe Biden nodded to that concern as he announced the United States would supply Kyiv with Abrams tanks.

“That’s what this is about, helping Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land. It is not an offensive threat to Russia. There is no offensive threat to Russia,” the president said.

As Biden wrapped up his announcement that the United States would provide Ukraine with Abrams tanks, a reporter asked if Germany had forced him to change his mind.

Kyiv has been asking its allies for armor to blunt Russia’s invasion, but Biden had reportedly been hesitant to send the Abrams, arguing their training and logistics needs would make them unsuited for the conflict. Washington viewed Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks as a better option, partially because many of Ukraine’s neighbors had stocks that could be provided to Kyiv with Berlin’s permission. But German chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would only green-light such transfers if the United States provided armor as well. The two leaders have spoken repeatedly in recent days, and Germany announced it would send some Leopards to Ukraine shortly before Biden made his announcement.

“Germany didn’t force me to change (my) mind,” Biden said. “We wanted to make sure we’re all together. That’s what we’re going to do all along, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Here’s the Guardian’s Lauren Gambino with more details on the Abrams tanks heading to Ukraine, and how the decision fits in with the overall western effort to supply Kyiv’s defenses:

The Biden administration has approved sending 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine as international reluctance to send tanks to the battlefront against the Russians begins to erode.

The news came after Germany confirmed it will make 14 of its Leopard 2A6 tanks available for Ukraine’s war effort, and give partner countries its permission to re-export other battle tanks to aid Kyiv.

By agreeing to send the Abrams, the US is able to meet the demand of the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, for an American commitment but without having to send the tanks immediately.

“Today’s announcement shows the United States and Europe continuing to work hand in hand to support Ukraine, united in our common values and our ongoing support to Ukraine, which the President and other leaders, including in the G7 format, have reiterated will continue for as long as it takes,” a senior administration official said.

Much of the US aid sent so far in the 11-month-old war has been through a separate program drawing on Pentagon stocks to get weapons more quickly to Ukraine. But even under that program, it would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and to get Ukrainian forces trained on them.

Ukraine says heavily armored Western battle tanks would give its troops more mobility and protection ahead of a new Russian offensive that Kyiv expects in the near future. They could also help Ukraine retake some of the territory that has fallen to Russia.

US to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine: Biden

The United States will provide Ukraine with Abrams tanks, as part of a push by western allies to send Kyiv heavy armor to defeat Russia’s invasion, Joe Biden said in a White House speech.

“I’m announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abram tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion,” Biden said. Defense secretary Lloyd Austin “has recommended this step because it will enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve strategic objectives.”

Biden to speak on Ukraine

Joe Biden will at 12 pm eastern time speak about the United State’s support for Ukraine, amid reports that Washington plans to send its Abrams tanks to help Kyiv defend against the Russian invasion.

Earlier in the day, the White House announced the American president had spoken to president Emmanuel Macron of France, Britain’s prime minister Rishi Sunak, chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany and prime minister Giorgia Meloni of Italy “as part of our close coordination on support for Ukraine.”

Follow this blog for coverage of the speech as it happens.

Speaking of committees, Republican House speaker Kevin McCarthy has made good on his promise to boot two Democrats from the intelligence committee, and is moving ahead with removing a third from the foreign affairs committee, the Associated Press reports:

Speaker Kevin McCarthy reiterated Tuesday that he will block Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell of California from serving on the House committee that oversees national intelligence, saying the decision was not based on political payback but because “integrity matters, and they have failed in that place”.

In the previous Congress, Democrats booted Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona from their committee assignments for incendiary commentary that they said incited potential violence against colleagues.

The minority leader, Hakeem Jeffries, in a letter sent to McCarthy over the weekend, asked that Schiff and Swalwell be reappointed to the House permanent select committee on intelligence, a prestigious panel with access to sensitive, classified information. There is no “precedent or justification” for rejecting them, Jeffries said.

Unlike most committees, appointments to the intelligence panel are the prerogative of the speaker, with input from the minority leader.

McCarthy said he would be submitting his reply later Tuesday, but “let me be very clear, this is not similar to what the Democrats did. Those members will have other committees, but the intel committee is different. The intel committee’s responsibility is the national security to America.”

The House oversight committee is one of the panels Republicans are relying on to investigate the Biden administration, but Punchbowl News reports they’re not getting the cooperation they would like.

Committee chair James Comer earlier this month demanded details from the National Archives about the classified documents discovered at Joe Biden’s former office in Washington DC. But according to Punchbowl, archivist Debra Steidel Wall did not respond by Comer’s 24 January deadline.

“Chairman Comer’s request still stands and [he] anticipates moving forward with a transcribed interview with NARA’s general counsel soon,” a committee spokesperson told Punchbowl.

Oversight is one of several committees in the Republican-controlled chamber that will be investigating various policies and events since Biden took office, but the National Archives isn’t the only institution giving them resistance. Last week, the justice department said it had the right not to disclose certain details of ongoing investigations to the committees.

Who else might have classified documents?

Fox News reached out to former president’s Barack Obama’s office to see if he planned to search for any in his possession. “We have nothing for you at this time,” his spokesman told the network.

Meanwhile George W Bush’s office said he handed in all his secret mater when he left the White House.

Donald Trump’s possession of classified documents is merely one of the legal issues the former president is facing. As the Guardian’s Chris McGreal reports, Trump or his allies could soon find themselves targets of prosecution by a Georgia district attorney investigating the campaign to overturn the state’s 2020 election result:

An Atlanta district attorney has said “decisions are imminent” on whether to charge Donald Trump with criminal offences over his attempt to to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia.

But a highly anticipated hearing on Tuesday remained largely inconclusive after a judge decided not to immediately rule on whether or not to make public an investigative report on the actions Trump and his allies took to baselessly challenge the legitimacy of the election.

Fani Willis, Fulton county district attorney, strongly hinted she could prosecute a former president for the first time in US history at the hearing. She cautioned, however, that openly revealing the grand jury’s investigation could prejudice a fair trial for “multiple” accused.

According to Bloomberg News, several attorneys familiar with the government’s classification system hold it in low regard, and acknowledge that accidental possession of classified documents is more common than many believe.

Attorney Kel McClanahan described it as “a messed-up system,” while national security expert Bradley Moss said other officials who had access to government secrets should start searching their houses. “If I am a public official who has had access to classified documents in the past, I would be calling my lawyers right now and telling them to start searching all of my stored materials immediately.”

McClanahan said “spillage,” as the accidental possession of classified materials is called, happens “so much more than anyone ever knows,” but usually doesn’t lead to criminal charges.

However former federal prosecutor Kevin O’Brien noted that there were important differences in how Donald Trump, Mike Pence and Joe Biden handled their discoveries of secret materials.

“It also appears that Pence, like Biden, may have inadvertently engaged in this conduct,” he told Bloomberg. “The contrast with Trump, who intentionally removed documents for private reasons and then misled and obstructed the government after it attempted to retrieve them, is clear.”

As this Associated Press article points out, Donald Trump, Joe Biden and Mike Pence are far from the first high-level government officials to be found to have classified documents in their possession.

Former president Jimmy Carter discovered some in his Georgia home:

Former President Jimmy Carter found classified materials at his home in Plains, Georgia, on at least one occasion and returned them to the National Archives, according to the same person who spoke of regular occurrences of mishandled documents. The person did not provide details on the timing of the discovery.

An aide to the Carter Center provided no details when asked about that account of Carter discovering documents at his home after leaving office in 1981. It’s notable that Carter signed the Presidential Records Act in 1978 but it did not apply to records of his administration, taking effect years later when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. Before Reagan, presidential records were generally considered the private property of the president individually. Nonetheless, Carter invited federal archivists to assist his White House in organizing his records in preparation for their eventual repository at his presidential library in Georgia.

And the story reminds readers that Hillary Clinton was the subject of a lengthy investigation over whether she’d broken classification procedures by using a private server to handle her emails as secretary of state, and that Alberto Gonzales also used to take secret documents homes when he was attorney general. It also includes more details of which classified files may have found their way to Mike Pence’s home in Indiana:

In Pence’s case, the material found in the boxes came mostly from his official residence at the Naval Observatory, where packing was handled by military aides rather than staff lawyers. Other material came from a West Wing office drawer, according to a Pence aide who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the discovery. The boxes were taped shut and were not believed to have been opened since they were packed, the person said.

The Guardian’s Hugo Lowell has some new details into the justice department’s investigation of classified documents found at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort:

Two documents that Donald Trump’s legal team returned to the justice department last year after retrieving them from a private storage unit in Florida as part of an additional search for materials were marked classified at the secret level, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The materials included one document marked as secret on the cover page, and a second document marked as secret with its classified attachment removed, one of the sources said – which Trump’s lawyers told the department was an indication of that document no longer being classified.

The two documents were found inside sealed boxes that appeared to have been unopened from when they were shipped down to the storage unit in Florida, near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, from the White House at the end of the Trump administration, the lawyers also told the justice department.

Since the two documents were returned as soon as the lawyers were informed of the discovery, the department is not expected to include them as part of the wider criminal investigation into Trump’s retention of national security information and obstruction of justice.

It started in August when the FBI carried out an unprecedented search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort and carted away boxes of what the government revealed were secret materials he should not have left the White House with.

It appeared the former president was in serious legal peril, particularly once it emerged that he’d sidestepped efforts by the National Archives to retrieve the materials, and after attorney general Merrick Garland said special counsel Jack Smith would look into the matter.

But then, in January, it was revealed Joe Biden had found classified documents from his time as vice president at a former office in Washington DC, and later at his home in Delaware. When it was revealed that the White House discovered this just prior to the November midterm elections but didn’t make the news public, Republicans pounced. Earlier this month, Garland announced the appointment of another special counsel, Robert Hur, to handle the investigation into the Biden case.

Then yesterday, news broke that the former vice president under Trump, Mike Pence, also found classified materials in his home in Indiana. That discovery has prompted something of a tonal shift in Washington, with both Democratic and Republican politicians now wondering if there isn’t a larger issue to be addressed with the government’s classification process – or perhaps its procedures for presidential transitions.

Latest secret document discovery amps up scrutiny of US classification system

Good morning, US politics blog readers. If you worked in the White House, it is apparently hard to leave without taking classified documents with you. That’s the lesson a number of lawmakers are drawing from yesterday’s news that former vice-president Mike Pence found government secrets at his home in Indiana. He is now in the same club as Joe Biden and Donald Trump, both of whom were found to have the same sort of material in their personal possession. For Trump and Biden, the matter is seen as a potentially serious legal threat, but the discovery at Pence’s residence has been met with incredulity by congressional lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, several of whom are now asking if the discoveries may not be a sign that it’s time to take a look at how the government manages its secrets.

Here’s what else is happening today:

  • Vice-president Kamala Harris will be in the Capitol to address the House Democratic caucus, and later in the day travel to Monterey Park, California to meet with families of victims of the mass shooting that occurred there.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will brief reporters at 1.30pm eastern time.

  • A group of conservative Republican senators will talk to the press about their plans for raising the debt ceiling in the Capitol at 2pm.

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