WASHINGTON — Investigators for the Department of Justice on Friday seized more than a half-dozen documents, some of them classified, at President Biden’s residence in Wilmington, Del., after conducting a 13-hour search of the home, the president’s personal lawyer said Saturday evening.
The remarkable search of a sitting president’s home by federal agents — at the invitation of Mr. Biden’s lawyers — dramatically escalated the legal and political situation for the president, who has insisted that the previous discovery of classified material at his home and former office would eventually be deemed inconsequential.
“There is no there there,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Thursday evening during a trip to California.
But during Friday’s search, six more items with classified markings — including some documents from his time as a senator and others from his time as vice president — were taken by investigators, along with surrounding materials, according to the statement from Bob Bauer, Mr. Biden’s attorney.
Mr. Bauer did not indicate what triggered the search, saying only that the president’s lawyers had offered to provide access for a search “in the interest of moving the process forward as expeditiously as possible.” Justice Department investigators coordinated the search with Mr. Biden’s lawyers ahead of time, Mr. Bauer said, and the president’s personal and White House lawyers were present at the time.
Mr. Bauer said that the Justice Department had requested that the search not be made public before it was conducted, “in accordance with its standard procedures, and we agreed to cooperate.”
The search, while not a surprise raid, underscored the seriousness of the investigation into Mr. Biden’s handling of documents and in some ways resembled the extensive search of former President Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida last summer, with agents looking for classified documents they believed were in Mr. Trump’s possession.
Understand the Biden Documents Case
The discovery at two locations of classified documents from President Biden’s time as vice president has prompted the Justice Department to scrutinize the situation.
- In Washington: Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s appointment of a special counsel to investigate the situation drew a mixed reception from Republicans, who had hoped to spearhead the effort themselves.
- Two Cases in the Spotlight: Two presidents — Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump — are now under investigation by special prosecutors for how they’ve handled classified documents. Here is how their cases compare.
- Last Days as Vice President: The appointment of a special counsel has focused new attention on the frenetic final stretch of Mr. Biden’s vice presidency in January 2017.
- Presidents and Their Prosecutors: Since the dark days of Watergate, every president but one has faced a special prosecutor looking into them or their associates.
Mr. Biden and his aides have repeatedly argued that the two cases are very different because the president has cooperated fully, while Mr. Trump and his lawyers resisted efforts by the National Archives and the Justice Department to return documents. Mr. Trump and his advisers are also under investigation for obstructing the inquiry.
But since the discovery of Mr. Biden’s documents, Mr. Trump has complained that Justice Department investigators were treating his successor differently.
“When is the F.B.I. going to raid the many homes of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Mr. Trump wrote in a statement posted to his social media accounts earlier this month.
The results of Friday’s search follow a series of discoveries by the president’s own lawyers of classified documents at the president’s Wilmington home and the Washington office Mr. Biden used before moving into the White House. The lawyers quickly turned the documents over to the National Archives and, later, to the Department of Justice.
Mr. Biden did not reveal the discovery of some of those documents for nearly two months, after initially finding them on Nov. 2. Earlier this month, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate.
Investigators also took “personally handwritten notes” by Mr. Biden from his time as vice president, Mr. Bauer said in his statement on Saturday.
“Yesterday, D.O.J. completed a thorough search of all the materials in the president’s Wilmington home. It began at approximately 9:45 a.m. and concluded at around 10:30 p.m. and covered all working, living and storage spaces in the home,” Mr. Bauer said. “D.O.J. 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.
Mr. Bauer did not make clear in his statement where in the Wilmington home the documents were found. The previous classified documents were found in the home’s garage and in a nearby storage space.
Another statement, from Richard Sauber, a member of the White House Counsel’s Office, said that the search was conducted and finished at the home on Friday, and neither the president or Jill Biden, the first lady, were at the residence at the time.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Garland declined to comment when asked if he had been consulted in advance about the search. She referred all questions to a spokesman for the newly appointed special counsel in the case, Robert K. Hur.
On Friday evening, even as investigators were still going through his home, Mr. Biden traveled to Rehoboth Beach, where he owns another house, to spend the weekend there. The president’s lawyers have said they searched the Rehoboth Beach home earlier this month and found no relevant documents. Officials have not said whether Justice Department investigators plan to conduct another search of the property.
In his statement on Saturday, Mr. Bauer said that the president’s cooperation with investigators was evidence that Mr. Biden and the White House were acting in good faith.
“We have attempted to balance the importance of public transparency where appropriate with the established norms and limitations necessary to protect the investigation’s integrity,” he wrote. “We will continue to do so throughout the course of our cooperation with D.O.J.”
News of the lengthy search, and the discovery of more classified materials, is certain to provide new ammunition to the president’s critics, including Republican members of the House, who have already demanded information about the documents and their potential impact on national security.
In a letter to Ron Klain, the White House chief of staff, last week, Representative James R. Comer, Republican of Kentucky, demanded that the president and his lawyers provide more information to Congress.
“It is troubling that classified documents have been improperly stored at the home of President Biden for at least six years, raising questions about who may have reviewed or had access to classified information,” Mr. Comer wrote.
Mr. Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has not demanded similar transparency from Mr. Trump regarding the classified documents found at his home.
Friday’s search underscored the unprecedented nature of the twin investigations being conducted by separate special counsels — one of the sitting president and one of his immediate predecessor — for improper handling of highly sensitive government documents.
The case against Mr. Trump has played out for more than a year, as the former president and his lawyers have fought demands for information about the documents. Mr. Biden’s possession of classified documents was first revealed to the public earlier this month, by CBS News.
Glenn Thrush contributed reporting.