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Aides to former Vice President Mike Pence said they discovered a number of classified documents at his Indiana home during a search conducted last week. Pence's attorney said the documents were "inadvertently boxed and transported" at the end of the Trump administration without his knowledge. Larry Pfeiffer of the Hayden Center joined Laura Barrón-López to discuss the latest.
Aides to former Vice President Mike Pence discovered what they say are a small number of classified documents at his Indiana home in a search conducted last week, intensifying scrutiny over the handling of classified materials by the nation's highest officeholders.
Laura Barrón-López has the latest on what we know.
The former vice president's attorney said they believe the documents were — quote — "inadvertently boxed" and transported to Pence his home at the end of the Trump administration without his knowledge.
Upon discovering the materials, Pence and his attorneys notified the National Archives. His attorney wrote in a letter that — quote — "Vice President Pence understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully."
For more on what this means, I'm joined by Larry Pfeiffer. He's the director of the Hayden Center,an intelligence policy organization.
Larry, thanks so much for joining us.
Pence's attorney said that the search was prompted by the discovery of classified documents at President Biden's home and office. You ran the Situation Room in the White House under President Obama, and you also have worked in the intelligence community for some 32 years. Should all high-level officials like Pence do searches like this?
Larry Pfeiffer, Director, Michael V. Hayden Center:
Laura, I have been saying for the past several weeks that, if I was a former president or a former vice president — I'd even throw in former Cabinet officials and perhaps even senators or congressmen that served on Intel Committees — they should be searching every nook and cranny of every storage space they have at their home and their office to make sure that they aren't the next big whoops moment on this document crisis we're having.
And across, as you noted, former President Trump, current President Biden, Vice President Pence, all these classified documents have been found.
Is it time to reform how classified information is handled?
Well, I do think an examination of the process at the White House is worth some attention.
I think assembling a group of experts from the intelligence community, the Pentagon, the National Archives, perhaps the Office of Management and Budget, to kind of review that sort of end-to-end process, how are documents coming in, how are they being stored, how are they being handled, and then particular focus on that time frame at the end of an administration when it appears folks were scrambling to remove the materials, put them in boxes and get them to where they should have gone.
Clearly, that's not happening correctly.
Are there other things that could be done, in terms of using electronic forms or other steps along the way in the process?
I think a greater reliance on electronic documents would minimize the volume of paper that's sitting around in these spaces. I think we definitely should improve — review and improve the training that people who go to work in the White House receive, particularly those who come from other places than the security community, and perhaps have some regular schedule of reinforced training.
I think it might not be a bad idea to reinforce the notion that documents should be going to the Archives during an administration, not just at the end of an administration. And then, lastly, I think it might be worth considering having teams of experts come from those communities to help with the boxing and disposition of those records at the end of an administration.
This revelation in the case of former Vice President Pence comes after Pence himself denied taking documents from the White House after he left in 2017.
Intentional or unintentional, how common is this?
Well, the investigation obviously needs to take place to see exactly what happened.
But this, unfortunately, happens. The classification — the handling of documents is largely a system of trust. It's subject to the human condition, and people make mistakes. It happens enough that we have a term of art. We call these things spills or spillage. And we have procedures in place to handle them.
Intentional? No, I'm — from what I'm seeing so far, I think these documents got put into boxes unknowingly. And I think it was done by staff. I don't believe the vice president, Vice President Pence, I don't think former Vice President Biden, now President Biden, were involved in the actual process of removing these documents from those locations.
Given all the information that we know so far across the cases, do you see them as — each of them different on their own, or that there are some similarities?
Well, it's like that show that airs during other times of the day "Sesame Street," where we now have enough of these things where I think we can say, one of these things is not like the other.
The Biden and Pence cases seem to be cookie-cutter, run-of-the-mill accidents. In the case of Trump, however, the volume of material, the reluctance of them to respond to requests for the documents, the continued obstruction that took place, the litigation that followed clearly set the Trump situation in a different light.
Larry Pfeiffer of the Hayden Center, thank you so much for your time.
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Laura Barrón-López is the White House Correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, where she covers the Biden administration for the nightly news broadcast. She is also a CNN political analyst.
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