NEW YORK — Documents with classified markings were discovered in former Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana residence last week, his lawyer said, the latest in a string of recoveries of papers meant to be treated with utmost sensitivity from the homes of current and former top U.S. officials.
The records, which were taken into FBI custody, "appear to be a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former vice president at the end of the last administration," Pence's lawyer, Greg Jacob, wrote in a letter to the National Archives shared with The Associated Press.
He said Pence was "unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence" until a search last week and "understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry."
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The revelation came as the Department of Justice is already investigating the discovery of documents with classification markings in President Joe Biden's home in Delaware and his former Washington office, as well as former President Donald Trump's Florida estate.
Democrat Biden has indicated he will seek reelection, Trump is already a declared candidate, and Republican Pence has been exploring a possible 2024 presidential campaign that would put him in direct competition against his former boss.
The newest discovery, which was first reported by CNN, thrusts Pence, who previously insisted that he followed stringent protocols regarding classified documents, into the debate over the handling of secret materials by officials who served in the highest ranks of government.
Trump is under criminal investigation after roughly 300 documents with classified markings, including at the top-secret level, were discovered at Mar-a-Lago. Officials are trying to determine whether Trump or anyone else should be charged with illegal possession of those records or with trying to obstruct the monthslong criminal investigation.
Biden is also subject to a special counsel investigation after classified documents from his time as a senator and in the Obama administration were found at his properties.
While a very different case, the Pence development could bolster the arguments of Trump and Biden, who have sought to downplay the significance of the discoveries. The presence of secret documents at all three men's homes further underscores the federal government's unwieldy system for storing and protecting the millions of classified documents it produces every year.
Pence's lawyer, Jacob, said in his letter that the former vice president had "engaged outside counsel, with experience in handling classified documents" to review records stored at his home on Jan. 16 "out of an abundance of caution" amid the uproar over the discovery of documents at Biden's home.
Jacob said the Pence documents with classification markings were secured in a locked safe. According to a follow-up letter from the lawyer dated Sunday, FBI agents visited Pence's residence Thursday night at 9:30 p.m. to collect the documents. Pence was in Washington for an event at the time.
Four boxes containing copies of administration papers — two in which "a small number" of papers bearing classified markings were found, and two containing "courtesy copies of vice presidential papers" — were discovered, according to the letter. Arrangements were made to deliver those boxes to the National Archives on Monday.
The National Archives did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the discovery. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Tuesday, and a lawyer for Pence did not immediately respond to an email seeking elaboration.
Pence told the Associated Press in August that he did not take any classified information with him when he left office.
In an interview this month with Fox Business, Pence described a "very formal process" used by his office to handle classified information as well as the steps taken by his lawyers to ensure none was taken with him.
On Capitol Hill, members of the Senate intelligence committee expressed incredulity over the mishandling of documents by top U.S. officials.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas noted that classified documents are only moved out of the committee's offices in locked bags. "In my book, it's never permissible to take classified documents outside of a secure facility or by some secure means of transport in between those secure facilities," he said.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner, a Republican, said he planned to request a formal intelligence review and damage assessment.
"No one is above the law," added Republican Sen. Rick Scott, another potential 2024 candidate. "I don't know how anybody ends up with classified documents. … I mean, every classified document I've ever seen has a big 'Classified' on it."