Saturday, January 14, 2023

What we know about President Biden’s private office where classified documents were found

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WASHINGTON– It was an office fit for a former vice president working in Washington—dark hardwood floors, comfortable seating, and a spacious desk set against the lofty backdrop of the Capitol building.

What transpired this week at that office — a think tank where President Joe Biden spent time after eight years in the Obama administration — has come under intense focus for the National Archives and Justice Department following revelations that classified materials from his time as Vice President were discovered there.

The documents were discovered in November by the president’s personal attorneys as they were packing files in a locked cabinet as they prepared to leave the office, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, according to Biden’s White House attorney . They were preparing to vacate the space less than five years after Biden cut the ribbon to reveal it.

Pictures and a floor plan of the room, public records obtained by CNN, illustrate where Biden spent time after his vice presidency to try to build a foreign policy think tank.

RELATED: President Biden ‘surprised’ by discovery of classified documents found in old office

When visitors who wanted to go to the Penn Biden Center entered the building at 101 Constitution Avenue NW, they first had to check in with the front desk staff in the lobby, according to sources familiar with the process. Visitors would then take the elevator to the floor where the Penn Biden Center offices are located.

It’s not uncommon to learn during a visit that Biden himself hasn’t spent much time there, a source familiar with the office and its arrangement told CNN.

Behind a door from the elevator banks, guests walked into a reception area and were a short step from a large conference room adjacent to Biden’s office.

In the conference room, Biden was pictured meeting with former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and in another photo speaking to UPenn students and alumni. Now Foreign Minister Antony Blinken was snapped laughing with a Japanese diplomat.

The former Prime Minister of Denmark, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kiev Patriarchate and several Israeli politicians have also stopped at the think tank.

The conference room had a door that led directly to Biden’s personal office, which was furnished with tall, wooden display shelves, blue love seats, and a plaque on Biden’s desk that read “Mr. Biden — Chairman” — an apparent nod to his time in the Senate, where he chaired the Foreign Relations and Judiciary Committees. Somewhere in the Penn Biden Center, according to the source familiar with the layout, there was a dog bed.

Hidden to the left of Biden’s desk, as the floorplan shows, was a small closet. To his right in the conference room and office was a small closet and a large walk-in closet.

Behind a corridor was a series of enclosed offices surrounding a central assembly area; The source familiar with the layout estimated there might have been around 10-15 offices in total. A source with direct knowledge said the closed offices were for senior executives and the office had a dining room.

Kathy Chung, who was Biden’s executive assistant at the time, and another person were seated in a two-person administrative office just outside Biden’s office, according to the first source familiar with the layout. Chung, who now works at the Pentagon, was questioned while examining classified documents found in Biden’s personal offices, according to a defense official. She has not responded to CNN’s attempts to contact her.

Chung is among several members of the Penn Biden Center who later joined the Biden administration, including officials in the White House, Pentagon and other diplomatic roles.

Biden’s attorneys and the Justice Department have not disclosed where the documents were found in the office, other than that they were in a locked cabinet. Floor plans show that in the Biden Penn Center closets and storage areas were scattered throughout the space.

RELATED: AG Garland names special counsel on Biden’s classified documents matter

The office was never a U.S. Secret Service location because Biden lost his federal protection as protocol dictates in mid-2017 after completing his term as vice president. Secret Service protection of Biden resumed in March 2020 when he became the presumptive Democratic nominee, although Secret Service agents never had any relationship with the Penn Biden Center.

The building is a short walk from the US Capitol and steps from the Washington, DC Federal Courthouse. It’s the same court that is currently convening Special Counsel Jack Smith’s grand jury, which is investigating former President Donald Trump’s own troubles with classified documents. And it would likely house Robert Hur’s grand jury if he decides to use one in his newly established Special Counsel investigation. Hur was appointed special counsel on Thursday to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents. The White House said earlier this week classified documents were also found at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.

The building also houses law firms, lobbyists, and trade groups like the National Mining Association. There’s also the Charlie Palmer Steak Restaurant – where Washington insiders are often spotted.

(The CNN Wire & 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.)

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