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A special counsel will probe documents found at Biden's home and private office

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

For the second time in two months, Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel to investigate a politically sensitive subject.

DWANE BROWN, HOST:

This time the special counsel is former prosecutor Robert Hur. His job is to find out how classified documents came to be located at President Joe Biden's home in Delaware and at an office tied to him in Washington.

FADEL: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson has been following the story, and she joins us now. Good morning, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what do we know about the mandate of this new prosecutor?

JOHNSON: The DOJ wants him to investigate the possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records found at two sites connected to President Biden. That's his home in Delaware and an office he used at a think tank in Washington, D.C., after he served as vice president. Now, of course, classified materials are supposed to be stored in special places, not out in the open or even in a locked room or a closet. The White House says Biden isn't sure what's in these papers that his lawyers found, and he didn't know the papers were there. A White House lawyer says these documents were misplaced, that this was a mistake, not intentional. But that's going to be for the Justice Department to decide. The special prosecutor is going to get to work in the coming days. And, Leila, he's already pretty familiar with how the DOJ operates. Robert Hur was a top official there in the Trump years. He also served as the U.S. attorney in Maryland in that era.

FADEL: Now, Attorney General Merrick Garland came into office pledging to restore public confidence in the Justice Department. Is that why he made this appointment?

JOHNSON: Merrick Garland said these regulations at the Justice Department called for him to appoint an outsider here because these are extraordinary circumstances. Here's more of what the attorney general had said to explain his decision.

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MERRICK GARLAND: This appointment underscores for the public the department's commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law.

JOHNSON: And Garland had praise for lawyers and agents who've already been working on this matter. He says he's going to make sure the new prosecutor has all the resources he needs to do this job.

FADEL: Now, this week, Republicans in Congress opened a separate investigation into President Biden and his family. How are they reacting to this appointment? I mean, he is, as you said, a top official that was there in the Trump years.

JOHNSON: Yeah. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says there's still a role for Congress to play in investigating these Biden documents. And the new chairman of the House Oversight Panel, James Comer of Kentucky, agrees. But Comer says he's really not a fan of special counsels. Here's what he said.

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JAMES COMER: When that special counsel is appointed, it limits our ability to do some of the oversight investigations that we want to do with respect to this. I think the House Oversight Committee can be a lot more effective and a lot quicker in getting to the truth of what really went on with those classified documents than a special counsel.

JOHNSON: Well, we have a special counsel now, and Comer says he's going to push for answers still about why the Biden administration kept this all secret from the public for months and who had access to Biden's office and his home. On the Senate side, the Intelligence Committee says they want a briefing, too, not just about these Biden papers, but also about what the FBI found in its search of former President Donald Trump's home in Florida, Mar-a-Lago. That Trump investigation is much more advanced, of course. Special Counsel Jack Smith is leading that probe. He's been on the job since last November. We know some former Trump White House aides have answered questions, but there's been no public action there in that case just yet.

FADEL: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.