WASHINGTON, Jan 24 (AFP) - Classified documents have been recovered at the home of former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Indiana, the latest in a string of revelations that have drawn attention to how United States politicians at the highest level handle sensitive materials.
In recent months, US President Joe Biden and his predecessor Donald Trump, under whom Pence served, have both been involved in investigations regarding their handling of classified materials.
Pence’s lawyer, Greg Jacob, revealed on Tuesday that the former vice president and Indiana governor had been cooperating with the FBI to turn over the classified materials.
Jacob issued a letter to the US National Archives last week acknowledging the presence of classified materials at Pence’s residence in Indiana, saying that the former vice president had been “unaware” of their existence.
Pence “understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry,” Jacob said in the letter.
“The additional records appear to be a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former Vice President at the end of the last Administration,” he explained.
Pence had previously told The Associated Press news agency that he had not taken any classified materials when he left office in January 2021. “Not to my knowledge,” he said.
The revelation came weeks after classified documents were discovered at Biden’s Delaware residence, as well as at the president’s offices at the Penn Biden Center, a Washington, DC think tank. Those documents date back to Biden’s time as vice president, under Democrat Barack Obama.
On January 12, US Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel, Robert Hur, to investigate Biden’s handling of the documents. The White House has said it will cooperate with the investigation and Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, has described the volume of documents involved as a “small number”.
A 13-hour search of Biden’s Delaware home on January 20th unearthed more documents with classified markings including some dating back to his time as a US senator.
Pence’s lawyer, Jacob, suggested that the Biden case spurred Pence to review what materials he himself had.
Pence “engaged outside counsel, with experience in handling classified documents, to review records stored in his personal home after it became public that documents with classified markings were found in President Joe Biden’s Wilmington residence”, Jacob said.
Tuesday’s announcement also comes in the wake of a continuing investigation into Trump’s storage of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
The US Department of Justice had issued a subpoena in May for the return of the classified documents and related presidential records, and in August, FBI agents launched a search of the Florida estate, recovering about 33 containers with 11,000 documents, about 184 of which carried classified markings.
Trump has called the search an “assault” and has maintained he is cooperating with officials. Attorney General Garland appointed a separate special counsel, Jack Smith, to lead the probe into Trump’s handling of the documents.
Officials have not yet determined whether criminal charges will be brought in the investigation, for either illegal possession of the records or for obstruction of justice.
Trump came to Pence’s defence on Tuesday, despite tensions between the two Republicans over the former vice president’s refusal to participate in a plan to overturn the 2020 elections.
“Mike Pence is an innocent man,” Trump wrote in a social media post. “He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!”