FBI searched Biden home, found items marked classified
By Zeke Miller, Michael Balsamo And Colleen Long in Washington
WASHINGTON (AP) — The FBI searched President Joe Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware, on Friday and located additional documents with classified markings and also took possession of some of his handwritten notes, the president’s lawyer said Saturday.
The president voluntarily allowed the FBI into his home, but the lack of a search warrant did not dim the extraordinary nature of the search. It compounded the embarrassment to Biden that started with the disclosure Jan. 12 that the president’s attorneyshad found a “small number” of classified records at a former office at the Penn Biden Center in Washington shortly before the midterm elections. Since then, attorneys found six classifieddocuments in Biden’s Wilmington home library from his time as vice president.
Though Biden has maintained “ there’s no there there,” the discoveries have become a political liability as he prepares to launch a reelection bid, and they undercut his efforts to portray an image of propriety to the American public after the tumultuous presidency of his predecessor, Donald Trump.
During Friday’s search, which lasted nearly 13 hours, the FBI took six items that contained documents with classified markings, said Bob Bauer, the president’s personal lawyer. The items spanned Biden’s time in the Senate and the vice presidency, while the notes dated to his time as vice president, he said. The level of classification, and whether the documents removed by the FBI remained classified, was not immediately clear as the Justice Department reviews the records.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Fitzpatrick confirmed Saturday that the FBI had executed “a planned, consensual search” of the president’s residence in Wilmington.
The president and first lady Jill Biden were not at the home when it was searched. They were spending the weekend at their home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Speaking to reporters during a trip to California on Thursday, Biden said he was “fully cooperating and looking forward to getting this resolved quickly.”
“We found a handful of documents were filed in the wrong place,” Biden said. “We immediately turned them over to the Archives and the Justice Department.”
It remained to be seen whether additional searches by federal officials of other locations might be conducted. Biden’s personal attorneys previously conducted a search of the Rehoboth Beach residence and said they did not find any official documents or classified records.
The Biden investigation has also complicated the Justice Department’s probe into Trump’s retention of classified documents and official records after he left office. The Justice Department says Trump took hundreds of records marked classified with him upon leaving the White House in early 2021 and resisted months of requests to return them to the government, and that it had to obtain a search warrant to retrieve them.
Bauer said the FBI requested that the White House not comment on the search before it was conducted, and that Biden’s personal and White House attorneys were present. The FBI, he added, “had full access to the President’s home, including personally handwritten notes, files, papers, binders, memorabilia, to-do lists, schedules, and reminders going back decades.”
The Justice Department, he added, “took possession of materials it deemed within the scope of its inquiry, including six items consisting of documents with classification markings and surrounding materials, some of which were from the President’s service in the Senate and some of which were from his tenure as Vice President.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed former Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert Hur as a special counsel to investigate any potential wrongdoing surrounding the Biden documents. Hur is set to take over from the Trump-appointed Illinois U.S. Attorney John Lausch in overseeing the probe.
“Since the beginning, the President has been committed to handling this responsibly because he takes this seriously,” White House lawyer Richard Sauber said Saturday. “The President’s lawyers and White House Counsel’s Office will continue to cooperate with DOJ and the Special Counsel to help ensure this process is conducted swiftly and efficiently.”
The Biden document discoveries and the investigation into Trump, which is in the hands of special counsel Jack Smith, are significantly different. Biden has made a point of cooperating with the DOJ probe at every turn — and Friday’s search was voluntary — though questions about his transparency with the public remain.
For a crime to have been committed, a person would have to “knowingly remove” the documents without authority and intend to keep them at an “unauthorized location.” Biden has said he was “surprised” that classified documents were uncovered at the Penn Biden Center.
Generally, classified documents are to be declassified after a maximum of 25 years. But some records are of such value they remain classified for far longer, though specific exceptions must be granted. Biden served in the Senate from 1973 to 2009.
Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, contributed to this report.
Venezuela oil czar in surprise resignation amid graft probes
A boy jumps near the “Los Petroleros” sculpture that shows two men working on an oil drill of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A, PDVSA, on the Sabana Grande boulevard, in Caracas, Venezuela, March 20, 2023. Venezuela’s oil czar, Tareck El Aissami announced his resignation on Twitter and pledged to help investigate any allegations involving PDVSA. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
By Regina Garcia Cano in Caracas
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The man responsible for running Venezuela’s oil industry — the one that pays for virtually everything in the troubled country, from subsidized food to ridiculously cheap gas — has quit amid investigations into alleged corruption among officials in various parts of the government.
Tareck El Aissami’s announcement Monday was shocking on multiple counts. He was seen as a loyal ruling party member and considered a key figure in the government’s efforts to evade punishing international economic sanctions.
And he led the state oil company PDVSA in a Venezuelan business sector widely considered to be corrupt — in a country where embezzelment, bribery, money laundering and other wrongdoing are a lifestyle.
“Obviously, they are giving it the patina of an anti-corruption probe,” said Ryan Berg, director of the Americas program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.
“Rule of law is not being advanced here,” Berg added. “This is really a chance for the regime to sideline someone that it felt for some reason was a danger to it in the moment and to continue perpetuating acts of corruption once particular individuals have been forced out of the political scene.”
Hours after El Aissami revealed his resignation on Twitter, President Nicolás Maduro called his government’s fight against corruption “bitter” and “painful.” He said he accepted the resignation “to facilitate all the investigations that should result in the establishment of the truth, the punishment of the culprits, and justice in all these cases.”
Venezuela’s National Anti-Corruption Police last week announced an investigation into unidentified public officials in the oil industry, the justice system and some local governments. Attorney General Tarek William Saab in a radio interview Monday said that at least a half dozen officials, including people affiliated with PDVSA, had been arrested, and he expected more to be detained.
Among those arrested is Joselit Ramirez, a cryptocurrency regulator who was indicted in the U.S. along with El Aissami on money laundering charges in 2020.
Corruption has long been rampant in Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest petroleum reserves. But officials are rarely held accountable — a major irritant to citizens, the majority of whom live on $1.90 a day, the international benchmark of extreme poverty.
“I assure you, even more so at this moment, when the country calls not only for justice but also for the strengthening of the institutions, we will apply the full weight of the law against these individuals,” Saab said.
Oil is Venezuela’s most important industry. A windfall of hundreds of billions in oil dollars thanks to record-high global prices allowed the late President Hugo Chávez to launch numerous initiatives, including state-run food markets, new public housing, free health clinics and education programs.
But a subsequent drop in prices and government mismanagement, first under Chávez’s government and then Maduro’s, ended the lavish spending. And so began a complex crisis that has pushed millions into poverty and driven more than 7 million Venezuela to migrate.
PDVSA’s mismanagement, and more recently economic sanctions imposed by the U.S., caused a steady production decline, going from the 3.5 million barrels a day when Chávez rose to power in 1999 to roughly 700,000 barrels a day last year.
David Smilde, a Tulane University professor who has conducted extensive research on Venezuela, said the moves by Maduro’s government are more than just an effort to clean its image.
“Arresting important figures and accepting the resignation of one of the most powerful ministers in a case that involves $3 billion does not improve your image,” he said. “It is probably because the missing money actually has an important impact on a government with serious budgetary problems.”
The Biden administration recently loosened some sanctions, even allowing oil giant Chevron for the first time in more than three years to resume production. Maduro’s government has been negotiating with its U.S.-backed political opponents primarily to get the sanctions lifted.
U.S. congressional researchers saw El Aissami as an impediment to Maduro’s goals.
“Should Al Aissami remain in that position, it could complicate efforts to lift oil sanctions,” a November report from the Congressional Research Center said.
The U.S. government designated El Aissami, a powerful Maduro ally, as a narcotics kingpin in 2017 in connection with activities in his previous positions as interior minister and a state governor. The Treasury Department alleged that “he oversaw or partially owned narcotics shipments of over 1,000 kilograms from Venezuela on multiple occasions, including those with the final destinations of Mexico and the United States.”
Under the government of Chávez, El Aissami headed the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was appointed minister of oil in April 2020.
“El Aissami was a key player in the Maduro government’s sanctions evasion strategy. We’re talking about someone who knows where all the bodies are buried, so it will be key to watch where he ends up,” said Geoff Ramsey, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council focused on Colombia and Venezuela. “If El Aissami ends up being implicated himself, it could have serious implications for the entire power structure.”
In September, Maduro’s government renewed wrongdoing accusations against another former oil minister, Rafael Ramírez, alleging he was involved in a multibillion-dollar embezzlement operation during the early 2010s that took advantage of a dual currency exchange system. Ramírez, who oversaw the OPEC nation’s oil industry for a decade, denied the accusations.
In 2016, Venezuela’s then opposition-led National Assembly said $11 billion went missing at PDVSA in the 2004-2014 period when Ramirez was in charge of the company. In 2015, the U.S. Treasury Department accused a bank in Andorra of laundering some $2 billion stolen from PDVSA.
Federal Election 2021
Liberals float possibility of making motion on foreign interference a confidence vote
Katie Telford, Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, leaves after a meeting of the Liberal Caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, on Wednesday, March 8, 2023. The federal Conservatives are trying to force Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s top aide to answer questions about allegations the Chinese government interfered in Canada’s last two federal elections. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
By Mia Rabson in Ottawa
Liberal House leader Mark Holland isn’t ruling out turning a Conservative motion on foreign interference into a confidence vote that could topple the government and would test the strength of the supply-and-confidence deal between the Liberals and the NDP.
The Conservatives tabled the motion in the House of Commons Monday demanding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, appear at the House ethics committee before the middle of April. They want her, along with more than a dozen other witnesses, to answer questions about allegations that the Chinese government interfered in Canada’s last two federal elections.
The move follows weeks of filibustering by the Liberals to prevent Telford from being summoned to appear at the House procedure committee on the same topic.
Alberta MP Michael Cooper said Telford is “a critical witness to get to the heart of the scandal.” He said she should be able to answer what Trudeau knows about Beijing’s attempts at meddling, when he learned about it and what he did about it.
The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois both seem prepared to vote in favour of the motion. The NDP has yet to say where it stands on this specific motion, but intends to push its own motion demanding a full public inquiry be called on the issue of foreign interference.
NDP House leader Peter Julien reiterated Monday that his party wants an inquiry to look at the issue as a whole, rather than focus only on China. But the Conservatives have rejected calls to expand the probe to include meddling by other governments, such as Russia and Iran.
The Tories challenged the NDP to side with them instead of the “corrupt government.”
“While this motion is a test for this government, it is also a test for the NDP,” said Cooper.
It certainly could be the first real test of the supply-and-confidence arrangement the NDP and Liberals agreed to a year ago. Under that deal, the NDP is supporting the government on budgets and other votes that are automatically viewed as confidence matters, in exchange for the government moving on key NDP priorities such as dental care.
A confidence vote is one that the government must win — or be forced to resign.
The agreement, reached in early March 2022, does address situations in which the government declares a confidence vote on other matters. It requires the Liberals to inform the NDP of a confidence vote as soon as possible, and the NDP to discuss with the Liberals how its MPs intend to vote before announcing so publicly, “to permit discussions” to take place.
Holland hinted those talks are underway now, when asked specifically if the government would move to declare the Conservative motion a confidence matter.
“I think it’s not helpful to jump to the end of a process when we are still having conversations in a contemporaneous circumstance,” Holland said in a scrum with reporters outside the House Monday afternoon.
The Liberals are on the same page with the NDP about wanting to look at foreign interference from all other countries, not just China. However, thus far, Trudeau has rejected calls for a public inquiry, choosing instead to appoint a “special rapporteur” to oversee an investigation on the issue.
Trudeau named former governor general David Johnston for the role. The prime minister has committed to abiding by his advice, including any recommendation to hold a full public inquiry.
Holland accused the Conservatives of playing partisan games with the very serious issue of foreign interference in Canada’s democratic processes. He said the government has offered to bring its national campaign chairs from 2019 and 2021 to the committees to answer questions.
He said the Conservatives won’t offer the same, though the Conservative motion Monday includes not just Telford but more than a dozen others, including all the campaign chairs for every official party in the House of Commons for both the 2019 and 2021 elections.
The campaign chairs and co-chairs were briefed during the elections about any signs of foreign interference.
Holland said the decision to focus so intently on Telford is entirely about partisan politics.
Conservative House leader Andrew Scheer said the Tories would support the motion even if the Liberals made it into a confidence motion noting the issue is important enough.
“It’s up to Justin Trudeau to make those kinds of decisions. And it’s up to the NDP to decide whether or not they’re going to allow themselves to be bullied around to cover up Liberal scandals,” Scheer told reporters on Parliament Hill.
Scheer rejected Holland’s contention that seeking Telford’s testimony amounts to partisan games. He argued she is one of the few people in Trudeau’s orbit during both elections and regular government work.
“She also would have had incredibly sensitive information as to the Liberal campaign itself, and that’s why it’s so important.”
— With files from Dylan Robertson
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2023.
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