US attorney general Merrick Garland named a special counsel on Thursday to examine the improper storage of classified documents at President Joe Biden’s home and former office.
Mr Garland said Robert Hur, who served as the top federal prosecutor in Maryland under Trump, will act as a quasi-independent prosecutor to determine whether classified records from Mr Biden’s time as vice president had been improperly stored at his residence in Delaware and a think tank in Washington.
Mr Garland said Mr Hur will examine “whether any person or entity violated the law.”
The inquiry is a distraction for the Democratic president, who has criticised his Republican predecessor Donald Trump’s handling of classified material, and could cast a shadow over Mr Biden.
The White House said some material was found in a garage at Mr Biden’s home and an adjacent room. It pledged to co-operate with the probe.
"We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the President and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake," White House lawyer Richard Sauber said in a statement.
Asked by a reporter on Thursday about the wisdom of storing important material next to his Corvette, the self-declared 'car guy' president said both were in a locked garage.
"It's not like they’re sitting out in the street," he said. "People know I take classified documents and classified material seriously."
Mr Biden and Mr Trump now each face inquiries from special prosecutors, who are typically appointed to politically sensitive cases to ensure a degree of independence from Justice Department leadership.
The White House said Mr Biden’s attorneys found a small number of classified documents and turned them over after discovery.
Mr Trump resisted doing so until an August FBI search turned up about 100 classified documents, raising questions about whether Mr Trump or his staff obstructed the investigation.
"The facts cannot be more different. The only similarity is there were classified documents that were taken out of the White House to somewhere else," said Kel McClanahan, head of National Security Counselors, a law firm.
The special counsel investigating Mr Trump’s handling of documents is also leading inquiries into the Republican’s attempts to overturn his November 2020 election defeat to Mr Biden. – Reuters