Democratic allies are expressing frustration with White House officials’ low-key approach to classified documents found in an office and residence of President Joe Biden, calling on the administration to be more forthcoming in its handling of the issue.

The uproar over the documents has quickly distracted attention from the administration’s political agenda and could also influence the timing of Biden’s 2024 plans. Some Democrats are now suggesting he wait and let the controversy die down before launching a run for president. re-election.

Until then, Biden needs to further explain how and why classified records dating to his vice presidency ended up in his garage and a private office in Washington, DC, according to Democratic strategists, lawmakers and even administration officials.

“You have to say, ‘I was wrong, I apologize,’” said Lanny Davis, who handled several investigations as a Clinton White House attorney.

“With the wisdom of hindsight, it is not too late for President Biden to own up to the mishandling of this,” added Davis, who now works in crisis management. «It belongs to me!»

The White House has said that Biden’s lawyers first discovered a «small number» of classified records stemming from his vice presidency in a locked cabinet on November 2, six days before the midterm elections, when they were vacating office space at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy. and Global Engagement in Washington, DC One of the documents was marked as Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmentalized Information, the highest level of classification in the US government, NBC News has learned.

The next day, Biden’s representatives turned the material over to the National Archives, which in turn notified the Justice Department, prompting an investigation by special counsel to see if any laws had been broken.

The White House did not publicly confirm that the documents had been found until Monday, when CBS News reported that a review was underway.

A statement from a White House lawyer, Richard Sauber, mentioned only classified material found at the center. NBC News reported Wednesday that Biden aides had uncovered an additional batch of classified records, a fact not mentioned in the initial White House acknowledgment. A new statement from Sauber on Thursday revealed that searches were also found in Biden’s Wilmington garage and in one of the house’s adjacent rooms.

“I think it was a misstep,” said a Biden administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak freely. “If you are going to be transparent, you have to communicate what you know and when you know it. When you start leaking information you already knew about, it starts raising more flags. People start to wonder, ‘When is the next shoe going to drop?’”

A Democratic member of Congress said he hasn’t heard from White House officials about what happened and can’t explain it to voters.

“I guess they are trying to align the facts and give us guidance,” the lawmaker said, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak more freely. «But we’re also hanging out here.»

The White House declined to comment for this article.

One person familiar with White House thinking said: «It’s easy to weigh in on the outside about how the White House could and should have done this, but people say they probably haven’t now or ever been the subject of a special counsel investigation. or US attorney review.”

Peppered with questions about the records in her daily briefings, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre pointed to earlier statements or referred reporters to other government officials. Asked by NBC News on Friday why the administration waited to publicly release the discovery of the documents until reporters found out about them, Jean-Pierre said: “Because it’s an ongoing process. Because, again, it’s an ongoing process. Here is a process. The Department of Justice is independent. We respect that process.”

Jennifer Palmieri, who served as director of communications in the Obama White House, suggested that any White House press secretary in this role would be in a tough spot in terms of what can be released in the briefing room.

«In an ongoing investigation involving police, the White House must be very careful about what information it puts in the public domain. If you are revealing details in real time, ahead of the White House and/or [the Justice Department] has completed his investigation, he could be accused of ‘changing his story’ or trying to get ahead of the special counsel and litigate the case in the court of public opinion before the special counsel has had a chance to start his investigation. There could be harmful long-term consequences for such actions.»

Still, press secretaries are not powerless: They can reach out to their colleagues and insist on answers to share with the press and the public.

«You can’t count the number of times I’ve threatened to resign if we don’t allow this or that thing to be open to the public,» said Mike McCurry, who was press secretary in the Clinton White House during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. .

One step Biden should consider appointing a dedicated person to answer questions about the documents so the White House isn’t bogged down daily by controversy that distracts him from his policy goals. said the Democratic strategists.

«The White House should consider appointing a separate spokesperson to handle all questions related to this matter,» said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who also served in the Clinton White House. «If someone else is handling questions related to that issue, he still has a press conference where he can communicate the issues of the day that he’s trying to get out there.»

Some White House officials are frustrated that the president is now saddled with an investigation by a special counsel, according to a person familiar with the matter. A criminal investigation has been underway for months into former President Donald Trump’s possession of classified records at his Mar-a-Lago home. The view of some Biden aides is that, unlike Trump, Biden fully cooperated with authorities, and yet Americans can conclude that both mishandled the records and were at fault, the person said.

Since the controversy erupted this week, Biden’s allies have been insisting that the cases of Trump and Biden are markedly different. His hope is that voters will see the distinction between the two: Biden returned the documents once they were discovered, while Trump withheld them, prompting a search warrant to be executed at Mar-a-Lago in August.

“The differences are pretty straightforward,” said Brad Woodhouse, a senior adviser to a pro-Biden group called the Congressional Integrity Project.

Perhaps the starkest contrast, he said, was highlighted in one of Sauber’s statements: «We are fully cooperating.»

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