NATIONAL NEWS

Biden forms task force to avoid mishandling of classified documents during presidential transitions

Feb 12, 2024, 3:00 PM

President Joe Biden speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2...

President Joe Biden speaks in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Monday launched a task force aimed at addressing the “systemic” problem of mishandling classified information during presidential transitions, days after a Justice Department special counsel’s sharply critical report said he had done just that.

The Presidential Records Transition Task Force will study past transitions to determine best practices for safeguarding classified information from an outgoing administration, the White House said. It will also assess the need for changes to existing policies and procedures to prevent the removal of sensitive information that by law should be kept with the National Archives and Records Administration.

The report from special counsel Robert Hur listed dozens of sensitive documents found at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, and at his former Washington office. The papers were marked as classified or later assessed to contain classified information.

The majority of the documents, Hur’s report stated, appeared to have been mistakenly removed from government offices, though he also detailed some items that Biden appeared to knowingly retain. He concluded that criminal charges were not warranted in the matter..

“I take responsibility for not having seen exactly what my staff was doing,” Biden said last week after Hur’s report was released. He added that “things that appeared in my garage, things that came out of my home, things that were moved were moved not by me but my staff.”

Biden aides first discovered some of the documents as they cleared out the offices of the Penn-Biden Center in Washington in 2022, and more were discovered during subsequent searches by Biden’s lawyers and the FBI.

Biden promptly reported the discoveries to federal authorities, which prompted the special counsel probe. That’s unlike former President Donald Trump, who is accused of resisting efforts to return classified government records that he moved to his Florida residence before leaving office in 2021 and of obstructing the investigation into them in a separate special counsel investigation.

In even the best of circumstances, presidential transitions can be chaotic as records of the outgoing administration are transferred to the National Archives and thousands of political appointees leave their jobs to make way for the incoming administration. Officials of multiple administrations have said there is a systemic problem with mishandling of classified information by senior government officials, particularly around transitions, magnified by rampant over-classification across the government.

Former Vice President Mike Pence turned over some classified documents discovered at his home last year. And former officials from all levels of government discover they are in possession of classified material and turn them over to the authorities at least several times a year.

“Previous presidential transitions, across administrations stretching back decades, have fallen short in ensuring that classified presidential records are properly archived at NARA,” the White House said. “In light of the many instances that have come to light in recent years revealing the extent of this systemic issue, President Biden is taking action to strengthen how administrations safeguard classified documents during presidential transitions and to help address this longstanding problem going forward.”

Hur’s report said many of the documents recovered at the Penn Biden Center in Washington, in parts of Biden’s Delaware home and in his Senate papers at the University of Delaware were retained by “mistake.”

Biden could not have been prosecuted as a sitting president, but Hur’s report states that he would not recommend charges against Biden regardless. But investigators did find evidence of willful retention and disclosure of a subset of records found in Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware house, including in a garage, office and basement den. The files pertain to a troop surge in Afghanistan during the Obama administration that Biden had vigorously opposed. He kept records that documented his position, including a classified letter to Obama during the 2009 Thanksgiving holiday.

Biden also retained his personal notebooks after leaving the vice presidency, some of which investigators found contained classified information, though other officials have kept similar documents as their personal property.

The task force will be headed by Katy Kale, deputy administrator of the General Services Administration, who was assistant to the president for management and administration during the Obama administration, the post that oversees the human resources and document retention functions at the White House.

The panel will include representatives from the White House, General Services Administration, NARA, the National Security Council and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

The task force is to produce its recommendations ahead of the next presidential transition. It is set to operate independently from the White House Transition Coordinating Council, which is chaired by the White House chief of staff and required by law to be stood up six months before any presidential election.

National News

Associated Press

Why AP called South Carolina for Trump: Race call explained

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Associated Press declared Donald Trump the winner of the South Carolina primary as soon as polls closed on Saturday. The race call was based on a comprehensive survey of South Carolina Republican primary voters that showed him defeating Nikki Haley by wide margins in her home state. Declaring a winner as […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Lithium ion battery caused fatal fire in New York City apartment building, officials say

NEW YORK (AP) — A lithium ion battery sparked a fire that killed one person and injured 17 others at a New York City apartment building, fire officials said Saturday. Friday’s two-alarm fire began just after 2 p.m. on the third floor of a six-story building in Harlem. New York Police Department video shows firefighters […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Federal prosecutors accuse a New Mexico woman of fraud in oil and gas royalty case

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico businesswoman is accused of defrauding the U.S. government and two Native American tribes of taxes and royalties due to them for oil and gas that her companies extracted from leased federal and tribal lands. Federal prosecutors announced this week that Teresa McCown recently was indicted by a grand […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Here’s how Trump won in South Carolina — and what it could mean for his chances in November

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump won over South Carolina Republicans as the candidate who voters believe can win in November, keep the country safe and has the mental capability to be president. Trump cruised to victory in the South Carolina primary with the support of an almost unwavering base of loyal voters. AP VoteCast found […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Kansas man pleads guilty to causing crash that killed officer, pedestrian and K-9 last February

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas man has pleaded guilty to smashing into a Kansas City, Missouri, patrol car last year and killing an officer, his K-9 partner and a pedestrian. Jerron Lightfoot of Tonganoxie, Kansas, pleaded guilty Friday to two counts of involuntary manslaughter and admitted speeding through a red light before the […]

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Brother of suspect in nursing student’s killing had fake green card, feds say

ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — The brother of the man charged with killing a Georgia nursing student has been accused of presenting a fake green card to police as they investigated the woman’s death, according to federal authorities. The brothers, Jose and Diego Ibarra, are from Venezuela, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of […]

5 hours ago

Biden forms task force to avoid mishandling of classified documents during presidential transitions