White House accuses Republicans of hypocrisy on Biden documents
WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) - The White House said on Tuesday it would respond in "good faith" to inquiries from lawmakers about the improper storage of classified documents at President Joe Biden's home and former office while accusing Republicans of hypocrisy in how they were pursuing the issue.
On Saturday, the Democratic president's counsel said five additional pages with classified markings were discovered at Biden's Wilmington, Delaware, home, and that those documents were immediately handed to Justice Department officials.
Aides previously found another batch of classified documents at his residence, and at a Washington think tank where he had an office after his time as vice president in the Obama administration. U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland has named a special counsel to probe the issue.
The White House has largely been on the defensive since the initial revelations that the documents had been found. Nothing about the matter was disclosed to the public until early January. Biden's lawyers made their initial discovery of classified material at the start of November, before the midterm elections that determined which party controls Congress.
That has led to accusations from Republicans that Biden's team is not being forthcoming about the discoveries.
The department is separately probing Trump's handling of highly sensitive classified documents that he retained at his Florida resort after leaving the White House in January 2021.
White House spokesman Ian Sams on Tuesday sought to compare the issue to the drawn-out drama that led to the election of Republican leader Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the House of Representatives earlier this month.
"They're faking outrage about disclosure and transparency at the same time, for example, that they will not ask their speaker to release the secret deals that he made in order to get support from the far-right extreme MAGA members of his caucus," Sams told reporters, referencing former President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
"We're learning drip by drip, bit by bit, the kinds of things he gave away in those negotiations and the serious impact they have on the American public," Sams said.
To get the speaker role, McCarthy agreed to major concessions, including a rule that means that any of the 435 House members could force a vote for his removal at any time.
McCarthy has said more data was needed about the Biden documents, including whether there were "more out there."
The briefing by Sams, a spokesman who works with the White House counsel's office, appeared designed in part to reclaim the offensive in the midst of Republican criticism and questions about the time it took to inform the public about the documents.
Sams said regular disclosures during a Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation posed risks that answers may be incomplete. He said some questions may not be answered until the special counsel's probe was complete.
"We understand that there's a tension between the need to be cooperative with an ongoing DOJ investigation and the rightful demands for additional public information, and so we're trying to strike that balance," Sams said.
Asked whether the Justice Department had asked the White House not to disclose specific things to the public, Sams said he would not characterize conversations between the agency and Biden's attorneys.
Sams said the White House had received a "few letters" from the Republican-led House Oversight Committee on the issue, is reviewing them and will make a determination about its response in due course.
"Our commitment is to work in good faith with Congress. When they make a request, we're going to operate in good faith," he said. "We just expect that the members of Congress have the same good faith."
Biden was asked by a reporter last week about the wisdom of storing important material next to his Corvette sports car. He noted that they were both in a locked garage.
The White House reiterated on Tuesday Biden's commitment to cooperating with the Justice Department’s investigation.
Sams criticized Republicans for having different responses to the document disclosures about Trump and about Biden.
"These are the same Republicans who didn't make a peep," about Trump's handling of classified material, Sams said. "And if they did make a peep, they often defended it."
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