- Attorney General Merrick Garland said he appointed a special counsel to investigate the discovery of classified government records at the private home and office of President Joe Biden.
- Garland tapped Robert Hur to serve as special counsel. Garland previously had assigned John Lausch, the U.S. Attorney for Chicago, to handle the inquiry after the first batch of records were discovered in November.
- "This is not a decision [Garland] made lightly," a senior Department of Justice official told NBC News.
Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday appointed former federal prosecutor Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate the discovery of classified government records at the private home and office of President Joe Biden.
Hur is authorized "to investigate whether any person or entity violated the law in connection with this matter," Garland said in a public statement he made on the appointment at the Department of Justice.
Hur served as the U.S. Attorney for Maryland from 2018 through 2021, after being nominated for that post by then-President Donald Trump, a Republican.
Garland's announcement, which cited "extraordinary circumstances," came hours after Biden and his lawyer said that a second batch of classified documents recently had been found in a garage in the Democratic president's private home in Wilmington, Delaware. That discovery was made on Dec. 20.
A first batch of classified documents was found on Nov. 2 by lawyers for the president in an office in a Washington think tank that Biden had used while a private citizen between 2017 and 2021, after serving as vice president in the Obama administration.
It is not known why lawyers for Biden waited more than one month to search for government records in other locations associated with the president.
The discovery of the first batch of classified records was only publicly reported on Monday by media outlets and later confirmed by the White House.
The White House has not answered why the discovery was not disclosed when it occurred, which was one week before the November midterm congressional elections.
The first discovery also occurred nearly three months after FBI agents raided the Florida residence of Trump, who is under criminal investigation for retaining thousands of government records, many of them classified, which were found during the raid.
Presidents and vice presidents are required, by law, to return government records to the National Records and Archives Administration when they leave office.
Garland had assigned John Lausch, the U.S. Attorney for Chicago, to handle the inquiry after the first batch of records was discovered.
The attorney general said that Lausch, who himself was appointed by Trump, last week recommended that he name a special counsel in the inquiry.
Hur, in a statement Thursday, said, "I will conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial, and dispassionate judgment."
"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," Hur said.
A senior Department of Justice official told NBC News that Garland's appointment of Hur was "not a decision he made lightly."
"The regulations could not be more clear that based on the facts that made the US attorney launch his initial investigation, an appointment of a special counsel is required," the official said.
Biden's press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, on Thursday, said "He was surprised by the discovery of these documents. He did not know what was in them."
"The minute that his lawyers found those documents, they reached out to the Department of Justice," she said. "He did not know that those documents were there."
Jean-Pierre refused to answer whether Biden would agree to an interview with the special counsel or his investigators.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., earlier Thursday said he believed Congress has to investigate the situation involving the documents.
The chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., in a statement said his panel will investigate the documents.
"The National Archives and Records Administration, the White House, and the Department of Justice were aware of the classified documents stashed in a closet at the Penn Biden Center before the election, and now we've learned classified documents kept in President Biden's garage were found in December," Comer said.
"There are many questions about why the Biden Administration kept this matter a secret from the public, who had access to the office and the residence, and what information is contained in these classified documents," Comer said. "Republicans will push for transparency, accountability, and answers for the American people."
Biden's lawyer, Richard Sauber, in a statement on Hur's appointment as special counsel, said, "As the President said, he takes classified information and materials seriously, and as we have said, we have cooperated from the moment we informed the [National] Archives that a small number of documents were found, and we will continue to cooperate."
"We have cooperated closely with the Justice Department throughout its review, and we will continue that cooperation with the Special Counsel," Sauber said.
"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."
Garland in November appointed another former federal prosecutor, Jack Smith, as special counsel to oversee two criminal investigations of Trump, one of which is focused on the government records he retained when he left office.
Smith also is investigating Trump for his efforts to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, which he lost to Biden.