President Joe Biden said Tuesday he’s unaware of the contents of a handful of classified documents recovered from his former private office at a D.C. think tank last year, telling reporters the discovery of the records that are now the subject of a Justice Department inquiry caught him by “surprise.”
Biden told reporters at a summit in Mexico City he hadn’t been aware of “any government records that were taken there to that office,” in his first public comments since the existence of the records was reported Monday.
Biden said his attorneys were clearing an office he previously used at the Penn Biden Center on November 2 when they discovered the records, saying they “did what they should have done” by “immediately” alerting the National Archives.
The National Archives has since referred the matter to the DOJ, which is reportedly conducting an inquiry at this point but not a formal criminal probe.
Biden said he has no plans to ask about what the records contain on advice of his attorneys.
The president said the White House is “cooperating fully” with the inquiry, which he hopes “will be finished soon.”
“People know I take classified documents, classified information very seriously,” Biden said.
The documents found in the office reportedly date back to between 2013 and 2016, during the time Biden served as vice president. He was an honorary professor for the University of Pennsylvania—which runs the center—prior to launching his 2020 presidential campaign, and it’s not believed Biden has used the office since before the campaign announcement. The discovery has drawn comparisons with former President Donald Trump’s own legal problems relating to the alleged mishandling of classified records, but the situations appear very different. The FBI seized hundreds of Trump’s documents in a raid of Mar-A-Lago after federal prosecutors said he spent months dodging a subpoena legally requiring him to turn over the records, while it appears federal authorities were unaware of the roughly 10 documents reportedly held in Biden’s office before his legal team voluntarily alerted them.