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President Joe Biden said he had "no regrets" about not disclosing before the November midterm elections the discovery of classified documents at a Washington, D.C., office he occupied after his vice presidency.
"I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there. I have no regrets," Biden said Jan. 19 in response to a reporter’s question. "I’m following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do. It’s exactly what we’re doing. There is no there there."
Biden’s remarks stood in contrast to his comments in September that it was "totally irresponsible" of former President Donald Trump to have classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida home.
We will leave it to voters to form their opinions on Biden’s contradicting statements. There are many unanswered questions about the documents found at the Biden and Trump properties. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed special counsels to separately investigate the cases.
In Biden’s case, some of the documents date back to his time as a U.S. senator (Biden’s decadeslong tenure in the Senate ended early 2009 when he was sworn in as Barack Obama’s vice president).
Here is a timeline outlining what we know so far about Biden’s documents, based on recent news reports and statements by Biden, his lawyers and White House officials. We will update this timeline as news develops. (PolitiFact is also tracking developments in the Trump documents case.)
Nov. 2: Biden’s lawyers discovered documents, some with classification markings, in a locked closet at Biden’s post-vice presidential office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington, D.C. They said they found the documents as they were cleaning out the office.
That same day, the White House Counsel’s Office notified the National Archives and Records Administration and the agency took the materials Nov. 3.
Nov. 2 was six days before Election Day. But the information wasn't public until CBS broke the story Jan. 9.
Nov. 3: The National Archives informed the agency’s inspector general about the discovery, according to a timeline provided by Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer.
Nov. 4: The National Archives Office of Inspector General contacted a prosecutor at the Department of Justice to inform him that documents bearing classification markings were found at the Penn Biden Center.
Nov. 9: The FBI began reviewing whether classified information had been mishandled in violation of federal law.
Nov. 10: The Justice Department informed Biden’s personal attorneys of their review; Biden’s lawyers were then in regular contact with the department, according to Bauer.
Nov. 14: Garland directed John Lausch, a U.S. attorney in Chicago, to conduct an initial investigation that would inform Garland whether to appoint a special counsel.
At some point in November: The FBI searched the Penn Biden Center with the Biden team’s consent, according to Jan. 31 news reports by CBS and other outlets that did not name sources. CNN reported that a search warrant was not used. White House officials and Biden’s personal attorney did not confirm the search to PolitiFact.
Dec. 20: Biden’s personal attorneys searched his Wilmington’s home garage and "identified a small number of potential records bearing classified markings," according to Bauer. Once the attorneys identified these documents, they stopped their search because they didn’t have security clearances and informed Lausch so that the Justice Department could take the records.
Jan. 5: Lausch advised Garland that further investigation by a special counsel was warranted.
Jan. 10: At a press conference in Mexico City, Biden said "people know I take classified documents and classified information seriously." Biden said he was "surprised" that any government records were taken to his office, that he didn’t know what was in the documents and that he was "cooperating fully" with the Justice Department.
Jan 12: The White House releases a statement acknowledging that Biden’s lawyers searched his Wilmington residence and found a "small number of additional Obama-Biden administration records with classified markings."
They found those documents in the garage and in an adjacent room and notified the Justice Department. Biden’s lawyers did not find documents in Biden’s house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
A reporter asked Biden about classified materials found next to his Corvette at his Wilmington home. Biden pushed back: "By the way, my Corvette is in a locked garage. OK? So, it’s not like they’re sitting out in the street." He repeated that he’s cooperating with the Justice Department.
Also on Jan. 12, Garland announced the appointment of U.S. Attorney for Maryland Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the Biden documents and whether any person or entity violated the law.
Jan. 14: Richard Sauber, a White House lawyer with security clearance, said he went to Biden’s Wilmington house Jan. 12 to help transfer a document to the Justice Department that was discovered the previous day. On Jan. 12, five additional pages with classification markings were discovered and given to the Justice Department, Sauber said.
Jan. 19: Biden said he had "no regrets" about not revealing the discovery of the documents before the Nov. 8 midterm elections.
Jan. 20: The FBI searches Biden’s Wilmington home from about 9:45 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. and finds more documents.
Jan. 21: Bauer said the Justice Department took "six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials" corresponding to Biden’s tenure as vice president and as senator. The statement said the Justice Department also took "personally handwritten notes from the vice presidential years" for further review.
Feb. 1: The Justice Department conducted a search of Biden’s home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with Biden’s "full support and cooperation," said Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal attorney.
"Under DOJ’s standard procedures, in the interests of operational security and integrity, it sought to do this work without advance public notice, and we agreed to cooperate," Bauer said. "The search today is a further step in a thorough and timely DOJ process we will continue to fully support and facilitate. We will have further information at the conclusion of today’s search."
Bauer said in a second statement of the day that the search was conducted from 8:30 a.m. to noon and that "no documents with classified markings were found."
"Consistent with the process in Wilmington, the DOJ took for further review some materials and handwritten notes that appear to relate to his time as Vice President," Bauer wrote.
This timeline was updated on Feb. 1.
White House, Remarks by President Biden Announcing Student Loan Debt Relief Plan, Aug. 25, 2022
White House, Remarks by President Biden During Meeting on Reproductive Rights with State and Local Officials, Aug. 26, 2022
White House, Remarks by President Biden, Prime Minister Trudeau, and President López Obrador in Joint Press Conference, Jan. 10, 2023
White House, Remarks by President Biden on the Economy and Efforts to Tackle Inflation, Jan. 12, 2023
White House, Remarks by President Biden on California Storms Disaster Recovery, Jan. 19, 2023
White House Counsel's Office, Statement by Richard Sauber, Jan. 9, 2023
White House Counsel’s Office, Statement by Richard Sauber, Jan. 12, 2023
White House Counsel’s Office, Second statement by Richard Sauber, Jan. 12, 2023
White House Counsel’s Office, Statement by Richard Sauber, Jan. 14, 2023
White House Counsel’s Office, Statement by Richard Sauber, Jan. 21, 2023
Bob Bauer, President Biden’s personal attorney, Timeline of Biden documents, Jan. 14, 2023
Bob Bauer, President Biden’s personal attorney, Statement, Jan. 21, 2023
Bob Bauer, President Biden's personal attorney, Statement, Feb. 1, 2023
Bob Bauer, President Biden’s personal attorney, Statement, Feb. 1, 2023
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Remarks on appointment of special counsel, Jan. 12, 2023
CBS News, President Joe Biden: The 2022 60 Minutes Interview, Sept. 18, 2022
Factcheck.org,Timeline of Biden’s Classified Documents, Updated Jan. 23, 2023
Washington Post, Timeline: Biden’s retention of classified documents, Updated Jan. 23, 2023
NPR, "Here's what we know about the classified documents found at Biden's home and office," updated Jan. 14, 2023
Axios, What we know about Biden's classified documents investigation, Updated Jan. 21, 2023
Fox News, What we know so far: Timeline of Biden's classified documents debacle, Jan. 23, 2023
AP, Senate Democrats criticize Biden’s handling of classified documents case, Jan. 22, 2023
PolitiFact, "Trump, Biden classified documents cases differ in key ways. Here’s how.," Jan. 10, 2023
PolitiFact, "Could Trump argue he declassified the documents found in the Mar-a-Lago search?," Aug. 11, 2022
PolitiFact, "Have people been prosecuted for mishandling White House records?," Aug. 10, 2022
PolitiFact, "Could Donald Trump declassify documents with just a thought? Three legal precedents say no," Sept. 23, 2022