President Joe Biden on Tuesday said he had not been aware there were classified documents at his University of Pennsylvania office, did not know what was in them, and was cooperating fully with a Justice Department inquiry of the situation.

“People know I take classified documents, classified information, very seriously,” Biden said in Mexico City, where he was attending a two-day North American Leaders Summit with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

When his lawyers were clearing out his office at the university, where his Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was located, they moved boxes to a secure office inside the Capitol, the president said at a brief news conference after the summit.

“They found some documents in a box, a locked cabinet, or at least a closet,” Biden said, and “they immediately called the Archives,” where presidential documents are supposed to be stored. They then realized there were classified documents in the box, the president said.

“I was briefed about this discovery and surprised to learn there were any government records taken there to that office,” Biden said, not stating when he was told about the discovery of classified documents or why the administration did not immediately inform the public about it. CBS, which first reported the discovery of the classified documents, said it happened in early November – before the midterm election.

Biden said he didn’t know what was in the papers and “my lawyers have not suggested I ask what documents were there.” He said his team was “cooperating fully with the review, which I hope will be finished soon,” and that there would be “more detail at that time.”

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The disclosure Monday of the documents immediately led to comparisons to the search and seizure of classified information – some of it labeled “top secret” – at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

Capitol Hill Republicans suggested the two cases were similar, accusing Democrats of hypocrisy for not treating the Biden case with the same level of outrage as they did the documents found at Mar-a-Lago.

“The only person that has the constitutional ability to declassify any documents is the president of the United States, not the vice president,” House Majority Leader Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana told reporters Tuesday. “If then-Vice President Biden took classified documents with him and held them for years and criticized former President Trump during that same time that he had those classified documents, and only after it was uncovered did he turn them back, I wonder why the press isn’t asking the same questions of him.”

The situations, however, are starkly different. According to Biden, his lawyers informed the National Archives – which was not aware the materials were missing – and returned the documents immediately. In Trump’s case, recovery of the documents came after a long process, dating back to May 2021 and including subpoenas and a personal visit and search by FBI agents. Some of the documents were in areas where guests sometimes were entertained.

Further, even after agents recovered documents during a June search – and after Trump’s lawyer, Christina Bobb, signed an affidavit saying all classified documents had been turned over – more classified information was found at Mar-a-Lago at a follow-up search in August 2022.

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By Richard

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