Classified documents discovered at home of former VP Mike Pence

Washington Post photo by Jabin Botsford
Former vice president Mike Pence arrives at the Heritage Foundation in Washington last fall.

A lawyer for former vice president Mike Pence, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, found what he called “a small number” of documents bearing classified markings during a search of Pence’s Indiana home, according to letters to the National Archives.

Greg Jacob, a designated representative for Pence’s vice-presidential records, said Pence gave permission for the FBI to collect the classified documents from his home Jan. 19 while the former vice president was in Washington to attend the March for Life, the yearly gathering of antiabortion advocates. Jacob noted he would deliver the boxes in which those documents were found, along with other vice-presidential papers, to the National Archives on Jan. 23.

“Following press reports of classified documents at the personal home of President Biden, out of an abundance of caution, on Monday, January 16, Vice President Pence engaged outside counsel, with experience in handling classified documents, to review records stored in his personal home,” Jacob said in a letter dated Jan. 18. “Counsel identified a small number of documents that could potentially contain sensitive or classified information interspersed throughout the records.”

Pence, who served as a congressman and governor of Indiana before becoming vice president, was in the process of notifying Congress on Tuesday, according to spokesman Devin O’Malley, who said no classified documents were found at the offices of Pence’s organization Advancing American Freedom.

CNN first reported the discovery of the letters.

Pence had been unaware that the documents were at his home and is “ready and willing to cooperate fully,” Jacob wrote. According to a Jan. 22 letter to the Archives, Jacob said four boxes contained “copies of Administration papers: the two boxes in which a small number of papers appearing to bear classified markings had been found, and two separate boxes containing courtesy copies of Vice Presidential papers.”

The discovery at Pence’s home comes as President Joe Biden has faced criticism over classified documents found at his home in Wilmington, Del., and a separate think tank office. The president has cooperated with the authorities.

“I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there,” Biden said of the investigation last week amid new developments including the appointment of a special counsel in the matter.

The latest discovery undercuts the days of criticism that Biden has faced; both men have cooperated with law enforcement. Former president Donald Trump, however, has been resistant while harshly criticizing the special counsel Jack Smith, who is investigating the former president’s handling of the documents.

It was unclear how the issue would resonate with voters in 2024. Trump announced his candidacy last November; Biden has indicated he is likely to run but had not made a formal announcement. Pence has been weighing a 2024 bid.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said he would ask the intelligence community to review the classified documents found at Pence’s home, as he did previously when classified documents were found at Biden’s think tank and personal home. “It is a serious matter for any government official to mishandle classified documents,” Turner said in a statement. “I plan to ask for the same intelligence review and damage assessment to see if there are any national security concerns.”

A damage assessment is customary when classified documents are found to have been mishandled or improperly stored. It is meant to determine whether intelligence sources and methods may have been put at risk by the documents’ exposure.

Earlier this month, Pence complained of a “double standard” in the reactions to classified documents from Trump’s presidency and Biden’s time in office. In a Jan. 10 interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, Pence agreed that Biden’s situation warranted a special counsel – which Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed two days later.

“I think for President Biden you had no choice but to appoint a special counsel,” said John P. Fishwick Jr., a former federal prosecutor who had argued that the step was necessary to head off accusations of unequal treatment. With Pence “still in the political game,” he said in an interview Tuesday with The Post, “the more I think about it . . . a special counsel needs to be appointed here. It’s got to be the same all around.”

Biden allies have emphasized the differences in the president’s handling of classified document revelations and Trump’s – the Justice Department spent months negotiating for the Trump papers’ return before finally seizing documents. Pence has repeatedly criticized the government’s handling of the Mar-a-Lago documents, suggesting they overreacted.

“I think this is all nonsense,” Hewitt echoed in the Jan. 10 interview. “Every former president ends up with a mix-up in the papers. It just happens.”

An adviser to former president Barack Obama’s office, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record, said Tuesday that all classified records from his time in the White House had been submitted to the National Archives upon leaving office and that the agency continues to assume physical and legal custody of Obama’s materials.

The FBI’s search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate turned up more than 100 classified documents, capping a nearly year-long quest to retrieve documents from the former president. The search came after two batches of more than 200 classified documents had been turned over to the Archives and the Justice Department.

Pence told the Associated Press after the FBI’s search of Mar-a-Lago that he had not retained classified documents from his time in office – “not to my knowledge.”

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, said in a statement Tuesday that Pence “agreed to fully cooperate with congressional oversight and any questions we have about the matter.” Comer had vowed to investigate Biden regarding the classified documents found at his home and post-vice-presidential office, but the lawmaker made no mention of an investigation into Pence in his Tuesday statement.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday he doesn’t believe Biden, Trump or Pence took classified documents to their private homes to “intentionally compromise” national security, while Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) called the discovery of classified documents where they shouldn’t have been “a big issue.”

The White House and Garland on Tuesday declined to comment on the Pence documents case.

Trump posted a statement on his Truth Social account soon after the Pence document discovery was announced.

“Mike Pence is an innocent man. He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!” the former president said.