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Trump and Biden teams both jump on Pence disclosure as a classified documents defense

By Kaitlan Collins, MJ Lee, Zachary Cohen, Phil Mattingly and Kristen Holmes, CNN

Advisers to former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden jumped on news of classified documents being found in former Vice President Mike Pence’s Indiana home, with both viewing it as a helpful defense in their own documents investigations.

Biden’s team continues to draw a distinction between him and Trump when it comes to their handling of classified documents, and the parallels between the Pence and Biden cases have served to sharpen that argument in the initial fallout.

But sources familiar with both cases acknowledged Tuesday new revelations about sensitive materials found at Pence’s home help their cause.

On one hand, Trump’s legal team views the news of classified documents found at Pence’s home as a positive development for the former president, believing the discovery, coupled with Biden’s own ongoing special counsel investigation related to his handling of classified documents, changes the dynamics of the Justice Department’s investigation into the former president, according to a source familiar with the matter.

While the circumstances are different in each case, members of Trump’s legal team believe these developments will make it harder for prosecutors to justify bringing criminal charges against any of them, the source said.

Meanwhile, Biden officials were relieved by the news, according to sources who told CNN that the Pence news “turns down the temperature on this being a Biden-only story.”

Another source familiar with the investigation likened the steps Pence took upon the discovery of classified documents to those taken by Biden. Pence turned over about a dozen documents marked classified to the FBI shortly after discovering them.

When Biden’s team found classified documents at his Washington, DC, think tank office in November, they immediately notified the National Archives, which in turn notified the Justice Department, though the discovery was not publicly disclosed for weeks.

“It appears Pence has followed a very similar initial process to Biden in terms of a voluntary review of materials and prompt disclosure to the proper authorities when they were found, all of which were made public by a media report,” the source said.

The FBI searched Biden’s home only recently, months after the first classified material was found. Biden’s team discovered documents in multiple locations between November and January.

But Trump allies also embraced the Pence news and believe it further blurs the lines between the three cases.

“They are all now linked in a way,” the source familiar with the thinking of Trump’s legal team said, referring to Pence, Biden and Trump.

Trump’s team also believes the Biden and Pence revelations support their argument that this should not treated as a criminal matter but rather as an administrative review of the White House’s process for handling classified material overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the source said.

The special counsel investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents also is looking at possible obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, the Justice Department has launched a review of the Pence documents and how they ended up in his house in Indiana.

Trump reacted to the Pence documents discovery on Tuesday, writing on Truth Social: “Mike Pence is an innocent man. He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!”

For Biden administration officials and allies, who have been under siege the past few weeks through multiple disclosures of classified documents found at Biden’s private office in Washington, DC, and subsequently, his house in Wilmington, Delaware, the Pence headline was welcome news — and even quietly celebrated.

As one senior administration official put it: “It turns down the temperature on this being a Biden-only story.”

One hope, this official said, was that the discovery of classified documents at Pence’s home would help to underscore that Biden aides were clearly not alone in making the mistake of packing up classified documents that should have been turned over to the National Archives.

Another hope: The development could be used by the White House to try to emphasize that what’s most important is how the situation was handled once the classified documents were discovered — and continue to draw the distinction between the Biden legal team’s handling of the matter compared to the actions of Trump and his allies.

The White House largely deflected questions on the Pence news Tuesday. The decision not to engage publicly on the discovery was in part tied to the White House’s long-standing effort not to engage in ongoing reviews and investigations, one official said, pointing to the need to maintain consistency on that posture.

But there was also a view that there was more value in letting the Pence development stand on its own — a much different tactic than the deliberate contrast with Trump’s case.

But it’s one that underscores the careful navigation of what one official acknowledged was a “helpful example” of another former vice president, dealing with issues that appeared to stem from the transition out of office, who publicly stated no awareness that classified documents were in his possession. Left unsaid was the clear value in the fact that the former vice president served in a Republican administration.

Beyond that, the official added, “We’ll let you guys draw the conclusions about what this all means.”

That didn’t mean officials weren’t paying close attention to the developments throughout the day — an effort that included keeping a close eye on Republican responses to the Pence news on Capitol Hill, with a particular interest in Republicans who have led or pledged inquiries into Biden.

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