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Additional classified documents are found at Biden's Delaware home

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We have Richard Painter back on the program to discuss the latest classified documents found at Biden's home. He was the top White House ethics official in the administration of former President George W. Bush. And he ran as a Democrat last year in a U.S. House race in Minnesota. Good morning.

RICHARD PAINTER: Good morning.

FADEL: So how problematic is the drip, drip nature of these revelations for the Biden White House?

PAINTER: Well, it would have been better if all of this had come out at the same time, if as soon as they had discovered the classified documents at the center operated by the University of Pennsylvania. The Justice Department, the FBI just did a complete search of those premises and the president's homes and found everything and then had made this public. But this is the way it's been handled thus far. I think the most important thing is to protect our national security and find out who has had access to these premises where documents were stored.

FADEL: Quite an unusual move for the FBI to search a sitting president's home. What did you make of that?

PAINTER: I think that's the appropriate thing to do. And this was consensual. It was not - they didn't need to go get a warrant. This is very different than the situation we had with former President Trump, who refused to give documents back when asked for them. And this is a situation where the FBI could conduct a search with consent and find what was there. And then we want to figure out who might potentially have had access to the documents.

FADEL: Now, the last time we spoke, you talked about how this appeared to be not criminal but a seriously sloppy handling of classified material. Do you still believe that's the case?

PAINTER: Yes, I believe there was sloppiness by staff members who packed these boxes up at the vice president's house. And now there may have been some at the Senate when he was in the United States Senate. And then at the other end, someone should have gone through the boxes to see if there was classified material in there or if there was...

FADEL: Yeah.

PAINTER: ...Anything else that shouldn't have been removed.

FADEL: Now, classified documents have distinctive marks on them. How do they get missed like this?

PAINTER: They do. And people should be a lot more careful. But we've had this before. My friend, Norman Eisen, who's the former ethics adviser for President Obama, co-authored an excellent piece in Just Security, a blog on how this was quite similar to what happened with Alberto Gonzales, who was the White House counsel and then the attorney general under President Bush, left the White House a month or so before I arrived. And he took some classified documents inadvertently. Also, there were some handwritten notes. It's quite similar to the Biden situation. And no criminal charges were brought. But it was sloppiness. And we need to make sure that this kind of thing does not happen again.

FADEL: Now, President Biden campaigned on being more responsible, less scandal-prone than Trump. How does this affect the public's trust in the president?

PAINTER: Well, I think, still, this is an enormous improvement over what we saw in the Trump administration. But, of course, that's not the norm, I would hope, with respect to ethics and national security matters. And I do think the White House needs to take this seriously and fully cooperate, disclose everything they know about who had access to the premises in the Biden houses. And then there are more - strongly urge the University of Pennsylvania to disclose everyone who had access to the Biden Center in Washington, D.C., as well as donors to the university, not to the center - some tens of millions from China - and all the other information that the U.S. Congress wants. I mean, we need full disclosure. That's the best way to handle these types of scandals - get all the information out as quickly as possible, be honest, and cooperate with the investigations.

FADEL: Richard Painter is a former chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush. Thank you so much.

PAINTER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.