WASHINGTON — President Biden said on Thursday that he had “no regrets” that the White House did not disclose before the midterm elections that classified documents from his time as vice president were found in his private office in early November.
After Mr. Biden toured Capitola, Calif., a beach town that has been ravaged by weeks of winter storms, the president took a question from a reporter, saying he felt that the “American people don’t quite understand” why journalists were asking about the documents and not his tour, which was focused on storm recovery.
“As we found a handful of documents were failed, or filed, in the wrong place, we immediately turned them over to the archives and the Justice Department,” Mr. Biden said, referring to the National Archives and Records Administration. “We’re fully cooperating, looking forward to getting this resolved quickly. I think you’re going to find there’s nothing there. I have no regrets. I’m following what the lawyers have told me they want me to do. It’s exactly what we’re doing. There’s no ‘there’ there.”
Mr. Biden and his advisers, who were at first reluctant to release information about the discovery of the documents, have faced an onslaught of questions about why the White House kept quiet about the material for so long. Mr. Biden’s lawyers discovered the first batch of classified papers on Nov. 2, six days before the midterm elections, and later found a second set in a room next to the garage in his home in Wilmington, Del., in December.
The existence of the documents became public only last week.
Last Thursday, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed a special counsel, Robert K. Hur, to investigate how the documents were handled.
The White House has tried to draw a clear contrast between Mr. Biden’s retention of classified documents and a case surrounding former President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump is under criminal investigation for taking several hundred documents with classified markings from the White House to Mar-a-Lago, his private residence in Palm Beach, Fla., and failing to fully comply with a subpoena.
Mr. Biden’s team appears to have acted swiftly and in accordance with the law upon the discovery of the documents, immediately summoning officials with the National Archives to retrieve the files. The archives then alerted the Justice Department. Officials have described the documents found at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, the think tank established as Mr. Biden’s private office after leaving the vice presidency, as “a small number of documents with classified markings.”
Mr. Biden’s remarks on Thursday closely echoed those made earlier in the week by Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, who assured reporters that Mr. Biden was fully cooperating with the investigation.
“It’s important to really understand the distinction here: President Biden is committed to doing the responsible thing and acting appropriately,” Mr. Sams said on Tuesday. “His team acted promptly to disclose information to the proper authorities and is cooperating fully.”