Classified Documents Probe Puts Spotlight on Biden’s Think Tank | United States of America

In 2017, when Joe Biden pondered his next move after decades in government, he considered a familiar path — establishing a Washington-based think tank focused on international affairs and diplomacy. It turned out to be an easy sale and also a more lucrative one.

Soft landings in the capital are common for officials with a resume like Biden’s, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was born with a great view of the Capitol.

The former vice president brought trusted staff and filing boxes. Now a small batch of those files are at the center of controversy, as some were classified documents that Biden had no right to keep.

The glamor of Ivy League academia and high-spirited ambitions were marred by this month’s revelation that the sensitive documents were found in a locked cabinet last fall as Biden’s attorneys packed up his former office at the center. That discovery puts Biden to the test just as he ponders a 2024 re-election campaign.

It turns out that politics was part of the equation all along.

At an early meeting at the center in February 2018, Biden told longtime foreign policy advisers – many of them from the Obama-Biden administration – that he was keeping his options open for a possible presidential campaign in 2020 and that he would welcome them if they did would join his team if he decided to run.

In fact, in April 2019, Biden announced his candidacy after hosting a handful of forums at the center and speaking a few times on the University of Pennsylvania’s main campus. And after that, he was rarely at the Capitol Hill Center, which has continued to function quietly since its eponymous leader moved on.

Its relatively low profile is now history.

Republicans in Congress are asking questions about the center’s budget and hiring practices, and the FBI may want to search the premises for more documents, as it did at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Philadelphia School-affiliated Penn Biden Center says it was founded on the principle that “a democratic, open, safe, tolerant, and connected world benefits all Americans.”

According to Biden’s tax return, the university paid him about $900,000 over a period of about two years, beginning shortly after he left office when Donald Trump and Mike Pence took over the White House. In addition to the center, Biden has also held roles at the school, where he would speak on campus.

While the center’s staff continued to do research, act as media experts and write columns on foreign policy after Biden’s departure, no new work has appeared on the center’s website for the past decade or so.

Elliott Abrams, who has held foreign policy positions for presidents in the Reagan, George W. Bush and Trump administrations, said he has not emerged as an influential think tank.

“It started as a parking lot for Biden people until he ran for president and never really outgrew that start,” Abrams said.

According to public records and the Penn Biden Center’s website, many current Biden allies cycled through the think tank in the White House.

Foreign Minister Antony Blinken was the center’s executive director from May 2017 to June 2019. Michael Carpenter held the role of executive director before being appointed US Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Other staffers at the center included Steve Ricchetti, now a senior adviser to Biden. There are at least seven other Biden employees who were at the center and are now in administration dealing with national security matters.

Even Amy Gutmann, then president of the university that helped set up the center, now works for him. She is the US ambassador to Germany.

Biden himself has a long history with the Ivy League school; his late son Beau, daughter Ashley and granddaughter Naomi are all graduates. Biden received an honorary doctorate from Penn in 2013 after delivering the inaugural address.

Biden frequently worked off-center on Constitution Avenue when, according to his aides, he was quietly planning his presidential election, but he did not spend time there after announcing his candidacy. His lawyers had finally got around to vacating the office when they stumbled across the classified documents last November.

Biden told reporters he was surprised to learn the documents were there. The records were immediately turned over to the Justice Department, but the discovery of records there and at Biden’s home has prompted an investigation by a special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Trump is also facing a special investigator investigation in connection with secret documents. In his case, FBI agents were executing an arrest warrant that showed they were investigating possible crimes, including willful withholding of national defense information and efforts to obstruct federal investigations. Biden voluntarily allowed the FBI to search his home.

Former officials at all levels of government discover they are in possession of classified material and turn it over to authorities at least several times a year, according to a person familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the classified documents.

Still, the existence of the documents at the Penn Biden Center has drawn unwanted criticism of the think tank, particularly from House Republicans investigating misuse of classified materials. They have requested a list of all staff at the center, including employment dates and salaries, visitor logs, and security-related documents and communications.

A conservative rights group led by former Trump advisers has complained to the IRS about the center’s hiring of Biden and his allies.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., has suggested that some of the $10 million in foreign gifts to the university went to the Penn Biden Center from well-wishers in China.

Donors from Ireland, Hong Kong, Canada, India, Japan and Brazil have also contributed to the university in recent years, although the House has focused on donations from China.

A statement from the university said the school will respond to the committee’s questions in a timely manner, but has never asked for any gifts for the center. There were three unsolicited gifts from two donors totaling $1,100.

The budget for the center comes exclusively from university funds. The university’s total academic operating budget is around $4 billion. Officials at the Penn Biden Center didn’t say how much of that goes into the center’s operations.

“It is important to reiterate that the Penn Biden Center has never solicited or received any gifts from Chinese or other foreign companies,” the Penn Biden Center statement said.

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