Senate Intel Committee leaders urge “immediate compliance” with Biden, Trump documents briefing request
The bipartisan leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee demanded “immediate compliance” with repeated requests for a briefing on the contents of classified documents found at the residences of former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden, according to a letter obtained by CBS News that was sent to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines and Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday.
The lawmakers also expanded their request to include documents found in the possession of former Vice President Mike Pence.
“Without access to the relevant classified documents we cannot effectively oversee the efforts of the Intelligence Community to address potential risks to national security arising from the mishandling of this classified information,” the letter from committee chairman Mark Warner, Democrat of Virginia, and vice chairman Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said. “We urge your immediate compliance with our previous requests, which we now extend to those classified materials subsequently discovered at President Biden’s home and the home of former Vice President Pence.”
“These matters are the highest priority of the Committee and our oversight and authorization efforts will align accordingly,” they wrote.
The letter marked the latest salvo in an intensifying standoff between lawmakers and the national security agencies charged with protecting the country’s secrets. On Saturday, Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte told the senators the Department of Justice was “actively working” on providing a briefing, which lawmakers said was already overdue.
Uriarte’s letter was a response to previous requests from the panel’s top two members for information about the documents. Uriarte said the Justice Department was working with the director of national intelligence to provide information that would satisfy the Senate Intelligence Committee’s responsibilities “without harming the ongoing Special Counsel investigations,” Uriarte wrote.
He revealed that the Justice Department had attempted to brief lawmakers last September. The letter also acknowledged “significant developments” since then, including the appointment of two special counsels to oversee separate investigations into the documents found at Trump’s Florida estate and Mr. Biden’s Delaware home. Uriarte leads the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs.
“Although one of the Special Counsels was appointed only on January 12, prosecutors on both matters are actively working to enable sharing information with the Committee,” Uriarte wrote.
It remains unclear why department officials did not brief lawmakers last fall. Sources familiar with the matter confirmed that a briefing on the Mar-a-Lago documents for the Gang of 8 — lawmakers with access to the nation’s most highly classified information — was proposed, but that it never took place because of scheduling conflicts.
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed special counsel Jack Smith in November to take over the probe into Trump’s handling of documents bearing classification markings discovered at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Garland earlier this month named a second special counsel, Robert Hur, to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the documents found in Mr. Biden’s former office at a think tank in Washington and at the president’s Wilmington, Del., home. Hur officially began his probe on Feb. 1.
In the wake of the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago, there have been bicameral requests for information about the potential national security risks posed by the documents retrieved by federal investigators. The government has recovered more than 300 documents bearing classification markings from Trump since the end of his presidency.
Lawmakers have sought similar information regarding the roughly 25 to 30 records found at Mr. Biden’s former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and his Wilmington house. Some of the documents date back to his time in the Senate and others to his vice presidency.
FBI agents searched Mr. Biden’s vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., on Wednesday morning for about 3 ½ hours, and no documents with classified markings were found.
Last month, documents with classification markings were also found at former Vice President Mike Pence’s home in Carmel, Ind. Sources told CBS News the classified documents found at Pence’s residence included briefings from foreign trips. Pence’s team turned the records over to authorities.
CBS News confirmed that the Justice Department is in discussions with Pence’s legal team about a visit to his Indiana home for a follow-up search after the former vice president disclosed that he had records marked classified in boxes at his residence, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Pence’s team has offered full cooperation to investigators and federal agents as they follow up, according the two sources. This was first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
The Department of Justice has not appointed a special counsel to review the Pence matter.
The Senate Intelligence Committee met two weeks ago behind closed doors with Haines, but Warner and Rubio said the meeting left them unsatisfied because they haven’t been able to see the records found in Mr. Biden’s and Trump’s homes.
“Our job is not to figure out if somebody mishandled those. Our job is to make sure there’s not an intelligence compromise,” Warner told “Face the Nation” in an interview that aired last Sunday. “And while the director of national intelligence had been willing to brief us earlier, now that you’ve got the special counsel, the notion that we’re going to be left in limbo and we can’t do our job — that just cannot stand.”
Rubio told “Face the Nation” Sunday that it’s an “untenable situation” for the Senate Intelligence Committee to be denied access to the records because of the special counsels’ investigations.
Other lawmakers threatened additional measures, including placing a hold on Mr. Biden’s nominations to key posts.
“No one in Congress has received these documents and whether it’s blocking nominees or withholding budgetary funds, Congress will impose pain on the administration until they provide these docs — and that is coming from both parties,” GOP Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said Wednesday.
Uriarte’s letter said that the Justice Department’s policy protects the interests of the American people and “effective administration of justice.”
“Disclosing non-public information about ongoing investigations could violate statutory requirements or court orders, reveal road maps of our investigations, and interfere with the Department’s ability to gather facts, interview witnesses, and bring criminal prosecutions where warranted,” he said.
Robert Costa and Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.
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