Washington “The Department of Justice is working to brief lawmakers on potential risks to national security following the discovery of classified documents at the homes of both former President Donald Trump and President Biden,” a department official told senators in a letter Saturday.
The letter from Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte, which CBS News obtained from a Capitol Hill source, was turned over to the heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee on Saturday night and came in response to earlier requests by the panel’s top two members for information about the documents.
“We are working with the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to support the provision of information that will satisfy the committee’s responsibilities without prejudicing the ongoing special counsel investigations,” Uriarte wrote in a letter to Sens. Mark Warner and Marco Rubiothe committee’s chairman and deputy chairman.
The letter revealed that the Justice Department attempted to brief lawmakers last September. It also acknowledged “significant developments” since then, including the appointment of two special counsels to oversee separate investigations into the documents found at Trump’s Florida property and Mr. Biden’s home in Delaware.
“Although one of the special counsels was not appointed until January 12, the prosecution in both cases is actively working to enable the sharing of information with the committee,” Uriarte wrote.
It remains unclear why department officials did not inform lawmakers last fall.
In a separate comment to CBS News, a Justice Department spokesperson said, “The Department is committed to sharing as much information as we can with Congress without jeopardizing the integrity of our ongoing investigations. That has been the Department’s longstanding policy, and we will continue to apply that policy equally.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland in November appointed special counsel Jack Smith to take over the investigation Trump’s handling of documents with classification marks discovered at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
IN response to inquiries from CBS NewsThe White House confirmed earlier this month that classified documents dating back to Mr. Biden’s vice presidency were discovered in his former office at a Washington think tank on Nov. 2. Additional records with classification marks has since been found at the president’s home in Wilmington, Delaware. Garland named earlier this month a other special adviserRobert Hur, to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into the documents found in Mr. Biden’s possession.
Saturday’s letter was also sent to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and ranking member Lindsey Graham, a Republican. Uriarte heads the Ministry of Justice’s Office of Legislative Affairs.
In the wake of the Aug. 8 Mar-a-Lago search, there have been requests from two chambers for information about the potential national security risks posed by the documents obtained by federal investigators. The government has recovered more than 300 classified documents from Trump since the end of his presidency.
Lawmakers have sought similar information regarding the roughly 25 to 30 records found in Mr. Biden’s former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement and his Wilmington home. Some of the documents date back to his time in the Senate and others to his vice presidency.
The Senate Intelligence Committee met last week with Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines, but Warner and Rubio said the meeting left them unhappy because they have not been able to see the documents found in Mr. Biden’s and Mr. Trump’s homes.
“Our job is not to find out if somebody mistreated them. Our job is to make sure there’s not an intelligence compromise,” Warner told “Face the Nation” in an interview recorded last Thursday. “And even if the director of national intelligence had been willing to brief us earlier, now that you’ve got the special counsel, the notion that we’re going to be stuck in limbo and we can’t do our job — it just can’t stand.”
Rubio told “Face the Nation” that it is an “untenable situation” for the Intelligence Committee to be denied access to the records because of the special counsel’s investigations.
Uriarte wrote in the letter to Warner and Rubio that the department “looks forward to continuing to work with the committee to meet its needs while protecting the interests of the department.”
“The department’s longstanding policy is to maintain the confidentiality of open case information,” he wrote. “The committee’s interest in overseeing the nation’s intelligence operations must be carefully balanced to protect the conduct and integrity of law enforcement investigations.”
Uriarte added that Justice Department policies protect the interests of the American people and “effective administration of justice.”
“Releasing non-public information about ongoing investigations could violate statutory requirements or court orders, reveal the roadmap of our investigations and interfere with the department’s ability to gather facts, interview witnesses and prosecute where necessary,” he said. “Maintaining confidentiality also safeguards the legal rights, personal safety, and privacy interests of individuals involved in, or assisting in, our investigations.”
GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, the new chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told “Face the Nation” in December that a briefing and damage assessment by the director of national intelligence was “in process”, but said last week that he had not heard from the intelligence community since he formally requested a briefing earlier in January. Turner gave the director a deadline of January 26 to comply.