Now the Biden administration wants to keep a lid on things.
Members of the White House press corps took turns ripping President Biden Thursday for not being transparent about the discovery of classified documents at his home and former office — with Fox News correspondent Peter Doocy asking point-blank: “What is the White House trying to hide?”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly claimed during her regular briefing that Biden had been “transparent” about his handling of classified documents, despite the fact that significant details were initially concealed while others remain unknown.
In response to Doocy — who had earlier asked Biden: “Classified materials next to your Corvette? What were you thinking?” and referred to the scandal as “Garage-gate” — Jean-Pierre said: “Nothing.”
The president had first indicated at a Tuesday press conference in Mexico City that sensitive material had been found only at his former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington — even though his attorneys had found additional records in his Wilmington, Del., garage weeks earlier.
“Someone gave the president a statement to read on Tuesday that was incomplete at best, misleading at worst. Who?” Doocy followed up.
“So,” Jean-Pierre answered after a pause, “I have read out the president’s statement. I read it out yesterday and what he said. He said that he respects, or he takes, classified information and documents very seriously.”
Confirmation Thursday that additional documents had been found prompted Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint special counsel Robert Hur to determine whether Biden illegally mishandled classified documents when he was vice president and in the years afterward.
In at-times contentious questioning, Jean-Pierre defended Biden’s handling of the scandal and brushed off reporter inquiries about whether the White House reconsider its refusal to release visitor logs for Biden’s home, where the president admitted Thursday morning records were found near his classic car.
“We have been transparent here,” Jean-Pierre insisted. “That is why the minute that his lawyers found those documents, they reported it, they reached out to the [National] Archives and the Department of Justice.”
NPR reporter Tamara Keith pressed Jean-Pierre on the prior omission of information about records found in Delaware from statements from Biden and the White House.
Keep up with today’s most important news
Stay up on the very latest with Evening Update.
“Would you admit that earlier this week the White House shared incomplete information?” asked Keith, who is president of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
“I think that when we all heard Merrick Garland say that these documents at the residence were found on December 20 and they were notified, that was pretty surprising to all of us based on the statements that you and the president and the counsel’s office have made.”
Jean-Pierre defended the prior obfuscation by saying “the search was continuing” at the time.
“How can you say this was transparent when you sat on this information for more than two months?” shouted James Rosen of Newsmax. Jean-Pierre did not reply.
“When you talk about ‘we are being transparent’, who is ‘we’ and what is the definition of transparent in this case?” asked CBS reporter Ed O’Keefe, who had tangled with Jean-Pierre the day before over the initial classified document discovery.
“What has been transparent,” Jean-Pierre said in part of her response, was that “the White House counsel has has laid out in detail on Monday” the issue — despite the fact that disclosure only acknowledged the Penn Biden Center records found on Nov. 2 and not the garage find on Dec. 20.
“There has not been a limit on transparency,” Jean-Pierre claimed as O’Keefe continued to press, later adding that she was “limited in what I can say” due to the Justice Department investigation.
Despite her claims of transparency, Jean-Pierre also did not clarify where exactly one additional classified document had been found at Biden’s residence in Wilmington — as disclosed by Garland as he appointed Hur to investigate whether Biden committed a crime.
“Do you acknowledge that the fact that the White House did not reveal this to the public, despite the fact that you’ve known about it for months, undercuts the president’s promise of being transparent with the American people?” asked NBC’s Kristen Welker.
“I’m here standing in front of you answering these questions, right?” Jean-Pierre replied. “The president took two questions this week … You’ve heard from the White House counsel who put out multiple statements on this. And so again, this is an ongoing process. You want to respect the process. And we have laid out very clearly what occurred.”
It remains unclear how many documents were stored at Biden’s Delaware home. CNN reported Tuesday that 10 classified documents dating from his vice presidency and dealing with Iran, Ukraine and the UK, were kept at the Penn Biden Center — some of which bore “top secret” markings.
Biden defended his handling of the papers Thursday morning, saying, “My Corvette is in a locked garage, OK? So it’s not like they’re sitting out on the street.”
In September, Biden chastised his predecessor Donald Trump for possibly mishandling classified records that were moved to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., after he left office.
“I thought, ‘What data was in there that may compromise sources and methods?’” Biden told CBS News’ Scott Pelley in a “60 Minutes” interview Sept. 18. “By that I mean names of people who helped or th– et cetera. And it just– totally irresponsible.”
Another unanswered question: Who had access to Biden’s garage while the documents were stored there?
Biden in 2016 referred to first son Hunter Biden helping repair his Corvette as a Christmas present — implying the first son was able to get into the garage. During his vice presidency and in the years before he became president, Hunter regularly introduced his dad to foreign business associates.
As of late last year, Biden has spent nearly one-fourth of his presidency in Delaware, but the White House has refused to share the names of his visitors — as it does for the West Wing — and the Secret Service claimed it has no such documentation.
“Will the White House release a log of visitors to the Delaware house?” Doocy asked Jean-Pierre Thursday.
Instead of directly answering, Jean-Pierre instead praised Biden for resuming the partial release of West Wing logs.
“You know, Peter, you’ve asked this question, or your colleagues have asked this question before, let’s not forget what we did here at this White House. We instituted something that the last administration got rid of … Did you ask the last administration why they got rid of the White House logs?” Jean-Pierre said.
A reporter for The Post attempted to follow up, but Jean-PIerre said, “I was calling on the gentleman who wanted to ask a question that was not released to this.”
Later, RealClearPolitics reporter Philip Wegmann asked, “Does the administration have any idea, between the garage and the Biden Penn office, just how many people could have gotten their hands on this?”
“There is an ongoing review on this,” the press secretary answered, “and I would refer you to the Department of Justice.”