Washington – The Justice Department on Monday told the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that it cannot comply with his requests for access to information related to the federal investigation into President Joe Biden’s retention of classified documents from his time as vice president.
In a letter to Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte wrote that department rules and norms surrounding ongoing investigations prevent it from further disclosure.
“The Department’s longstanding policy is to maintain the confidentiality of such information regarding open matters,” Urirate wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by CBS News. “Disclosing non-public information about ongoing investigations could violate statutory requirements or court orders, reveal road maps of our investigations, and interfere with the Department’s ability to gather facts, interview witnesses, and bring criminal prosecutions where warranted.”
Uriarte’s letter to Jordan also expressed concern that sharing information about going investigations with Congress might risk the appearance that Congress could be “attempting to influence Department decisions in certain cases.”
It’s concerning, to say the least, that the Department is more interested in playing politics than cooperating,” said Judiciary Committee spokesman Russell Dye.
The Justice Department declined to comment.
On Jan. 13, Jordan sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland outlining his demands for documents and underlying evidence regarding the appointment of special counsel Robert Hur and the events surrounding the discovery of classified documents from Mr. Biden’s time as vice president.
A personal attorney for the president discovered approximately 10 documents with classified markings on Nov. 2 at the Penn Biden Center, a private academic institute run by the University of Pennsylvania. Mr. Biden’s lawyers alerted the White House counsel’s office who informed the National Archives of the discovery. The archives inspector general brought the matter to the Justice Department.
In November, Garland assigned Illinois U.S. Attorney John Lausch — a Trump appointee — to look into the matter. Earlier this month, Lausch recommended the attorney general appoint a special counsel.
In response to CBS News’ request for comment on the investigation, the White House confirmed the discovery of sensitive records at the think tank and days later disclosed that more Obama-era classified documents were discovered at Mr. Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, residence.
Federal law requires that all official presidential and vice presidential documents – especially those with classified markings – be handled carefully and placed in the possession of the National Archives before a principal leaves office.
Additional searches — including a nearly 13-hour sweep conducted by the FBI at Mr. Biden’s Wilmington home — found more classified records. In all, more than two dozen Obama-era documents with classified markings have been discovered at locations tied to Mr. Biden.
The Justice Department’s letter to House lawmakers comes just days after the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee received a letter from Uriarte indicating his office was working to brief lawmakers on potential risks to national security after the discovery of classified documents at the homes of both former President Donald Trump and Mr. Biden.
More than 300 documents with classified markings were found at Trump’s Florida residence after a year-long struggle with the National Archives to recover them. In Trump’s case, the Archives alerted the former president’s team to missing records from his administration and engaged the Justice Department to secure and recover them.
After alleged evidence emerged that there were attempts to obstruct that investigation, prosecutors executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in August. Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate the Trump matter, noting the political environment in which the investigation was being conducted.
Since the appointment of that special counsel Jack Smith, Trump’s legal team hired an outside firm to search the former president’s properties in New York, New Jersey and Florida and, according to people familiar with the matter, two additional documents with classified markings were uncovered.
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has said it is conducting a review of the Trump documents.
In Monday’s letter, Urirate told Jordan that special counsel investigations are “subject to specific regulations regarding their appointment, independence, and communications to Congress.” Those regulations, he wrote, also require the Justice Department to communicate with Congress “at the onset and conclusion” of any special counsel probe.
“These regulations govern the Department’s conduct in all Special Counsel investigations and will continue to govern our disclosures in this matter,” the letter concluded.