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Republicans demand White House communications relating to document cover-up

By Ben Marquis
|
March 8, 2023

President Joe Biden's administration has been less than forthcoming with regard to his alleged mishandling of classified documents, despite repeated insistence that they have been completely transparent with Congress and the American public.

The Republican chair of the House Oversight Committee is now calling out the White House and insinuating an attempted cover-up that involved suppressing an initial statement from the National Archives about Biden's developing classified documents scandal, the Daily Mail reported.

GOP Committee Chair James Comer (KY-01) based that assertion on the fact that the general counsel of the National Archives testified before the committee that the Archives had drafted an initial statement about the discovery of classified documents in Biden's possession but never released it on orders from somebody outside of the National Archives.

"Biden’s lack of transparency"

On Tuesday, Chairman Comer sent a letter to White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients to inform him of the committee's and the FBI's ongoing investigation of President Biden's "mishandling of classified documents" and to remind him of three previous letters related to that investigation that the committee had sent to the White House in January.

"However, the White House has produced no documents and neglected to provide a substantive response to the Committee’s request," Comer wrote, and noted, "The Committee is concerned about President Biden’s lack of transparency given the serious national security implications of his conduct."

The chairman then referenced a January 31 transcribed interview with Gary Stern, the general counsel of the National Archives and Records Administration, and Stern's admission that a statement about the discovery of classified documents in Biden's possession had been drafted but not released on January 9, the same day that CBS News first broke the story that classified documents had been found in Biden's old office space at the Penn Biden Center think tank in Washington D.C.

That stands in stark contrast to the swift manner in which the National Archives released a statement on February 7, 2022, that coincided with a report from The Washington Post that first broke the news about classified documents being improperly stored at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

New demands for answers

In the letter to Zients, Comer included relevant portions of the transcribed interview with Stern in which the general counsel acknowledged that the National Archives drafted but did not release a statement in response to the CBS News report, but when asked "who prevented" the statement from being released, Stern replied, "According to the DOJ guidance, I’m not supposed to talk about the, you know, content of our communications with other parties."

Stern also revealed under further questioning that nobody within the National Archives had acted to block the release of the statement and stated that the Biden White House was "free to release" any and all of its communications with the National Archives.

"The Committee’s transcribed interview with NARA General Counsel Gary Stern raises more questions regarding the Biden Administration’s involvement in suppressing information related to President Biden’s mishandling of classified documents," Comer wrote as he reiterated the committee's prior demands and added a few new ones that needed to be answered by March 21.

That included whether any "White House staff member or representative of President Biden" instructed the National Archives to withhold its initial statement, and if so, who. It also asked for "all documents and communications" related to the withholding of the initial statement as well as whether the White House would publicly release its communications with the National Archives.

Committee Democrats push back

The Daily Mail reported that in response to this new letter from House Oversight Committee Chair Comer, the White House simply pointed to a February 1 statement to reporters in which spokesman Ian Sams had insisted that "the White House did not ask Archives to withhold a statement."

Meanwhile, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-08) fired off a press release of his own to try and undermine the letter from Comer to Zients.

"Committee Republicans continue to make unfounded accusations of disparate treatment by the National Archives and the Department of Justice in their efforts to preserve presidential records and secure classified records," Raskin said. "Today, Committee Democrats are releasing a previously undisclosed letter received last Congress from the Justice Department demonstrating the agency’s longstanding policy to not disclose information that could interfere with the integrity of ongoing investigations."

"Committee Republicans have failed to identify any evidence to support their irresponsible claims that the National Archives and the Department of Justice are politically biased and have been uncooperative with their investigation," he added. "I’m calling on Chairman Comer to release the full, complete and unedited transcribed interview with Mr. Stern, so that the American public can evaluate the facts free from partisan spin."

White House has not been forthcoming or transparent

The Biden White House can continue to claim that it has been forthcoming and transparent with regard to the president's apparent mishandling of classified documents, but it is obvious to many Americans that such assertions are simply not true.

Whether the White House will finally acquiesce to Chairman Comer's demands or continue to stonewall the Oversight Committee is something that remains to be seen.