Senators on both sides of the aisle were caught off guard Tuesday by the news that classified documents were found at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence, materials that were ultimately turned over to the FBI.
An attorney for Pence told the National Archives that the former vice president used outside counsel to review records stored at his personal home after several classified documents were found at the home and a former office of President Biden. The Pence news left some Senate lawmakers floored over yet another discovery of classified documents belonging to a former vice president.
“I don’t know what the hell is going on around here. It’s the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,” Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told The Hill. “I have no reason to believe it’s nefarious in any way, but clearly at the executive branch they’re just packing boxes.”
Rubio told reporters that he expects the subject to come up on Wednesday when Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines is set to appear before the committee to discuss unrelated topics. The Wednesday afternoon briefing is closed to the public.
Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Mark Warner (D-Va.), along with Rubio, has requested information from Haines following an FBI search in August of former President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago property that turned up more than 100 documents with various classified markings.
Their requests, however, have not yielded much due to the appointment of a special counsel in the Trump case. Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a separate counsel to review the documents that were found in the Biden locations, which date back to his time as vice president and as a senator.
“So far, we’ve really had no reaction or response or any more information,” Rubio noted. “But we will have answers to these, one way or another, they will have to give us answers.”
There are, however, major differences between how lawmakers on Capitol Hill and executive branch figures view such documents, at least in the minds of members of Congress. Senators and representatives may only view classified documents in a sensitive compartmented information facility in the basement of the Capitol, and documents are not allowed to leave with lawmakers.
That same sort of process does not appear to be used at the White House under administrations of multiple stripes, lawmakers said.
“I don’t get it,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters. “Anybody that deals with classified materials knows that they have to be maintained in a secure place and not available to our adversaries by putting them in a place that’s easy to penetrate. So — that’s not good.”
“I don’t know how this happens, but obviously it’s something that needs to be corrected,” Cornyn added.
Pence has repeatedly said in interviews that he did not have any such documents in his possession upon leaving office. Still, he decided to have his home searched after news reports revealed what was discovered from Biden.
Warner expressed shock at the latest development before pressing for ex-presidents and ex-vice presidents to “check their closets” to ensure they, too, did not have any classified documents in their possession.
Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) added that it seems as though there is a “cavalier attitude” at the White House generally when it comes to the handling of such materials.
A number of senators initially argued that overclassification, especially of information that might become dated over time, is a problem, which Rubio noted is a separate issue.
Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) was particularly struck because during a recent appearance on Larry Kudlow’s Fox Business show, Pence appeared before him and detailed every step of the process that was involved in his viewing of classified documents during his time as vice president, which included Pence telling the host that some materials were put in a burn bag after he viewed them.
“It sounded like a very nice routine for making sure that you don’t hang onto things. … A nice routine would be a good way to avoid problems like this,” Cramer said, noting that “clearly” this wasn’t enough.
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted that Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is working on legislation aimed at maintaining and preserving presidential and federal agency records.
Some senators, however, couldn’t help but be bemused by the situation. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) told reporters that his attorney went through his files and “found Jimmy Hoffa’s remains.” Others wondered whether other former presidents and former vice presidents would similarly scour their homes for classified papers.
“Is Dan Quayle suddenly going through his golf bag to find out if he accidentally took something? I don’t know,” Cramer quipped to reporters.