On Thursday US president Joe Biden sought to play down the significance of the discovery of classified material at his home and an office he previously used.
“We found a handful of documents were filed in the wrong place,” Biden said. “I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there.”
“There’s no there, there,” he said memorably.
How classified material ended up in a premises associated with the president and not in the National Archives where they should have been sent after he finished his term as vice-president in early 2017 is being investigated by a special counsel appointed by the attorney general.
The investigation is expected to examine whether the secret files were mishandled due to sloppiness or whether they were deliberately taken to the house and office and if anyone without the appropriate security clearances had access to them.
Ultimately the inquiry may find there is no legal exposure for the president and there really is “nothing there”.
But whatever about the legal issues – and it may take months for these to be determined – the optics surrounding the whole episode and the associated political implications are getting worse.
The White House insists that the president followed all the rules and it appears frustrated at the political and media controversy that has erupted over recent weeks.
This weekend the whole episode was boosted further by developments that are likely to lead to political shock waves for days ahead.
On Saturday night it was confirmed that additional classified documents had now been found following a 13-hour search of Biden’s residence.
As far as many political experts and historians in Washington were concerned, this was the first time certainly in living memory that the home of a sitting president had been searched by the FBI.
Classified material has now been found on five separate occasions either in Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware or at an office complex in Washington which he used for a time.
Biden’s personal lawyer Bob Bauer said on Saturday that six documents with classified markings – including some from his time as a senator and others from his time as vice-president – were taken by investigators, along with surrounding materials.
Investigators also took “personally handwritten notes” by Mr Biden from his time as vice-president, he said.
“Yesterday [Friday], Department of Justice (DOJ) completed a thorough search of all the materials in the president’s Wilmington home. It began at approximately 9:45am and concluded at around 10:30pm and covered all working, living and storage spaces in the home,” Mr Bauer said.
“DOJ had full access to the president’s home, including personally handwritten notes, files, papers, binders, memorabilia, to-do lists, schedules, and reminders going back decades,” he added.
Separately special counsel to the president Richard Sauber said that at the time of the search neither the president nor Jill Biden, the first lady, were at the residence in Wilmington.
He said the president had directed his personal lawyers to be fully co-operative with the justice department as part of its ongoing investigation.
The news that the FBI had searched a private residence of a sitting president will dominate the news cycle in the United States for the days ahead.
Footage of Mr Biden’s home in Delaware were played on a loop on news channels in the aftermath of the revelations on Saturday night.
All this came at a time when the expectation had been that Biden would soon announce that he will run for a second term in the White House in the aftermath of better-than-expected midterm election results for his Democratic Party last November.
Biden’s Republican critics have already seized on the discovery of the classified material, partly in a bid to damage the president and partly to deflect attention away from Donald Trump who is also the subject of a separate special counsel investigation into how he handled secret documents.
Republicans are claiming that there are double standards at play in that Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago in Florida was raided by the FBI on foot of a court order while the search of Biden’s property appeared to be by arrangement.
There are, however, differences between the Trump and Biden cases. As far as is known publicly, the volume of classified material at issue is far greater in the Trump case. Biden has argued that he followed the proper protocols and voluntarily disclosed the initial discovery to the archives. Trump on the other had has been engaged in protracted court battles with the Department of Justice.
Republicans now control the House of Representatives and will undoubtedly seek to use their new oversight powers to demand more and more information about how the classified documents came to be in Biden’s garage next to his vintage Corvette car.
Republicans are not as enthusiastic about pursuing the issue of the secret documents at Trump’s home.
What implications, if any, the discovery of the documents in the Biden premises will have on the potential of Trump facing prosecution over the material found at Mar-a-Lago remains to be seen.
What is certain is that Biden’s political and media problems over the classified documents will run and run.