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Bipartisan group of senators unveil bills to overhaul ‘overclassification’ of documents


WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday unveiled two new bills aimed at overhauling the country’s security classification system following allegations that President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump mishandled documents classified.

The bills “would reform the security classification system to reduce overclassification, prevent the mismanagement of classified information, promote better use of intelligence, and build public trust,” the senators said in a statement. Press release.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., one of the bills’ sponsors, said one of the bills’ reforms would require the National Archives and Records Administration to review documents leaving the White House at the end of the mandate of a president or a vice-president. in the office.

The issue came to the fore last year after Trump returned 15 boxes of presidential files to the archives, including a number of highly classified documents.

He handed over more sensitive documents to the Justice Department in June after being subpoenaed for their return. An FBI search of its Mar-a-Lago compound in Florida last August, however, uncovered more than 100 additional documents with classification marks, according to court filings.

Classified Obama administration documents were found among Biden’s possessions in an office he used in Washington in November. The White House acknowledged the discovery after it was first reported by CBS News in January. Other documents with classified marks were later found by the Justice Department at the president’s home in Delaware during a voluntary search.

An attorney for former Vice President Mike Pence reported finding classified documents at Pence’s Indiana home earlier this year as well.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has brought in separate federal special advocates to investigate the handling of the Trump and Biden documents.

Trump denied wrongdoing and complained that the federal government should have been more patient. Biden and Pence said their representatives turned over their documents as soon as they were discovered and cooperated with investigators.

Warner, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters that the legislation would help ensure the documents are not accidentally deleted.

“If any of these people weren’t intending to take something inappropriate, then this process that we’ve put in place would resolve that issue,” he said.

The legislation would also provide stronger protection against unauthorized leaks of classified information, such as sensitive information allegedly leaked by an Air National guard earlier this year. The guard, Jack Teixeira, has pleaded not guilty in the case.

Warner said the legislation includes a system that would reinforce existing safeguards and flag when someone appears to be leaving with information they shouldn’t.

The senators – Democrats Warner and Ron Wyden of Oregon and Republicans John Cornyn of Texas and Jerry Moran of Kansas – said the bill would also give the director of national intelligence responsibility for the classification system, while discouraging overclassification and encouraging faster declassification.

“Controlling access to sensitive information keeps the United States at least one step ahead of its adversaries, but declassification gives us the opportunity to work with our allies around the world and show the American people what his government is doing,” Cornyn said.

Moran said the bills also include technology upgrades. “When it comes to document declassification, our current analog declassification process is about as efficient as using a dropper to drain a flood,” he said.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.