White House defends releasing incomplete information about classified documents

Kevin Liptak, CNN

CNN — The White House offered its most robust – if still extremely limited – explanation of why it has repeatedly released incomplete information about classified documents located in President Joe Biden’s private office and homeinsisting Tuesday that protecting the Justice Department’s investigation means restricting which details can be released publicly.

“I understand that there’s a tension between protecting and safeguarding the integrity of an ongoing investigation with providing information publicly appropriate with that,” said Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office.

He said that as the Justice Department, and now a special counsel, investigates the matter, it was “natural” some information would evolve.

“In any investigation, as an investigation is ongoing, especially an investigation where people are cooperative and are working hand-in-hand with the department to review these matters, information is going to develop,” he said. “That’s a natural part of any investigation.”

Biden’s representatives “wanted to be respectful to try to provide as complete information as we could, trying to balance with the need to provide that information to you all consistent with the investigation,” Sams went on.

The Justice Department did not tell the White House to limit the information that’s publicly released, sources familiar with the matter told CNN.

The White House has faced criticism, even from some Democrats, over how it has handled the matter related to Biden’s handling of classified documents. That includes what it disclosed and when, including failing to say that additional documents had been found at Biden’s home when initially revealing documents were found at his office.

The White House also waited more than 24 hours to reveal an additional five pages marked classified were found at a location in Biden’s home in Delaware last week. And nothing about the matter was disclosed to the public for months after Biden’s lawyers made their initial discovery of classified material at the start of November.

The steady pace of revelations have raised questions about the White House strategy, and led to accusations from Republicans that Biden’s team isn’t being forthcoming about the discoveries. House Republicans have vowed to investigate the matter themselves, and have begun sending oversight requests to the White House.

Sams said the White House would determine how to respond to those requests in “due course,” but accused Republicans of turning the documents issue into “political theater and political stunts.”

Even as the White House sought to justify their messaging efforts, a number of questions about the matter remained unanswered. That included whether Biden himself would testify before the special counsel, Robert Hur, who is investigating the situation.

“We’re not going to get ahead of that process with the special counsel and speculate on what they may or may not want or ask for,” Sams said.

When CNN’s MJ Lee asked why Biden’s personal lawyers were involved in cleaning out his Washington office, Sams noted the work was sensitive, given its occupant.

“I think it’s important to note you know, this is the President of the United States, and these are personal materials. And, you know, his trusted aides were doing the work of cleaning out the office and so I think that that’s self-explanatory,” he said.

Once Hur completes his probe, Sams said more information could be shared with the public.

“Many of the answers from here may need to wait until the conclusion of the special counsel’s review,” he said. “But in the meantime, we do intend to cooperate with that review, so that it can proceed swiftly and thoroughly.”

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

CNN’s Evan Perez and Paula Reid contributed to this report.