The discovery of classified documents in the home of former vice-president Mike Pence caused surprise and bewilderment in Washington and raised questions about what type of controls senior politicians have in place to secure secret files when they leave office.
US president Joe Biden and his Republican predecessor Donald Trump are already facing separate investigations into how classified material ended up in their residences.
When senior politicians such as the president and vice-president leave office, secret files in their possession are supposed to go to the US national archives.
Now it appears this did not happen, certainly not completely, in the case of the last two vice-presidents (Biden and Pence) as well as Trump.
The discovery of the documents is particularly embarrassing for Pence as several weeks ago he specifically denied taking any classified material when he left office. He also welcomed the appointment of a special counsel to investigate how Biden had handled secret files.
The revelations surrounding Pence also pose a dilemma for several Republican politicians. They strongly criticised Biden over the drip, drip of revelations about classified documents being found in his home in Delaware and in an office he previously used in Washington.
Republicans, who now control a majority in the House of Representatives, had promised investigations and demanded, for example, access to logs maintained by the secret service of those who had gone in and out of the Biden residence in Wilmington. They wanted to know who might have seen the secret files and whether this all constituted a risk to national security.
Biden has said he was surprised that classified documents had been found, and the White House this week suggested that he did not know the material was present in his house and former office.
However, the fact secret documents were discovered in a number of locations may have undermined the assertion that this was all a mistake. It possibly strengthened the view that there may have been a certain laxness in how state papers were put together and transported from his various offices when he finished up as vice-president in early 2017.
The revelations that classified material had been in Pence’s home for a number of years may likely blunt some, but not all, of the criticism of Biden.
James Comer, the Republican chair of the House oversight committee, said Pence “agreed to fully co-operate with congressional oversight and any questions we have about the matter.” Comer had promised to investigate Biden over the classified documents found in his home and office but did not signal such an inquiry into Pence.
Other Republicans continued to argue that Biden had not been transparent when the documents were first found in his office last November.
An aide to Pence said that “a small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information interspersed throughout the records” had been found in his home in Indiana after he brought in a lawyer to look through his official papers.
He said in a letter to the national archives that Pence had been unaware that the documents were at his home and was “ready and willing to co-operate fully”.
it remains to be seen what, if anything, the discovery of classified material at Biden and now Pence’s home will mean for the investigation into the documents found at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club and residence in Florida.
As of now it appears that the volume of material in the Trump case is larger than in the case of Biden.
Trump also seemed to want to hold on to the documents and has been in and out of court with the Department of Justice for months.
But if increasing numbers of senior politicians are found to have classified material in their homes, can prosecutors charge anyone?
Trump said on Tuesday: “Mike Pence is an innocent man. He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!”