WASHINGTON — A new special counsel investigation into the discovery of classified documents in President Biden’s home and office puts both him and his attorney general in awkward positions as another special counsel investigates his predecessor for his own mishandling of secret papers.
Although the circumstances of the cases involving Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump are markedly different, as a political matter, the new inquiry will muddy the case against Mr. Trump, who is already using it to argue that he is being selectively persecuted by the administration of a president he plans to challenge in 2024.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland sought to insulate the Justice Department from accusations of partisanship by picking Robert K. Hur, a veteran prosecutor and Trump appointee, to scrutinize the handling of papers by Mr. Biden’s team. The decision comes as the new G.O.P. majority in the House embarks on an aggressive examination of what it claims is the Biden administration’s use of government power against Republicans.
In ordering the appointment on Thursday, Mr. Garland assigned Mr. Hur to look into “the possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records discovered” at Mr. Biden’s think tank in Washington and his residence in Wilmington, Del.
The White House promised to fully cooperate while insisting prosecutors would find only unintentional errors. People close to the situation said several Biden associates had already been interviewed.
“We are confident that a thorough review will show that these documents were inadvertently misplaced, and the president and his lawyers acted promptly upon discovery of this mistake,” Richard Sauber, a White House lawyer overseeing responses to investigations, said in a statement.
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Under Mr. Garland’s order, Mr. Hur is authorized to prosecute any crimes arising from the inquiry or to refer matters for prosecution to federal attorneys in other jurisdictions.
“I will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial and dispassionate judgment,” Mr. Hur said in a statement. “I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor, and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service.”
Mr. Biden, who excoriated Mr. Trump for being “irresponsible” with national secrets, now has to answer for his own team’s mishandling of sensitive papers. Unlike Mr. Trump, Mr. Biden so far as is known did not resist requests to return documents, and in fact his lawyers discovered them without being asked and promptly returned them. But the White House did not disclose the discovery to the public for two months, waiting until after the November midterm elections, before which it might have damaged Democrats.
As a new timetable outlined by Mr. Garland on Thursday made clear, even then the White House did not fully reveal the extent of the situation in its original statement. That statement, released on Monday, confirmed a news media report about a first batch of classified documents discovered at his think tank in November but made no mention of a second set found at his Delaware home in December.
Only on Thursday, three days after that initial statement, did the White House confirm news media reports about the second batch, which was found in the garage of Mr. Biden’s home in Wilmington, and a final document found nearby on Wednesday night.
When a reporter asked Mr. Biden at an unrelated event on Thursday why classified documents were kept alongside his prized Corvette, Mr. Biden replied: “My Corvette is in a locked garage. OK? So it’s not like they’re sitting out in the street.”
“But as I said earlier this week,” he added, “people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously. I also said we’re cooperating fully and completely with the Justice Department’s review.”
Reporting was contributed by Adam Goldman, Katie Benner, Jim Tankersley and Karoun Demirjian.