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News / Nation & World

Justice Department says it won’t charge Pence over handling of classified documents

By JILL COLVIN and ERIC TUCKER, Associated Press
Published: June 2, 2023, 8:42am

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Department of Justice has informed former Vice President Mike Pence ‘s legal team that it will not pursue criminal charges related to the discovery of classified documents at his Indiana home.

The department sent a letter to Pence’s attorney Thursday informing his team that, after an investigation into the potential mishandling of classified information, no criminal charges will be sought. A Justice Department official confirmed the authenticity of the letter, which was obtained by The Associated Press.

The news comes days before Pence is set to launch his campaign for the Republican nomination for president in Iowa Wednesday — a race that will put him in direct competition with his old boss, former President Donald Trump.

No evidence ever emerged suggesting that Pence intentionally hid any documents from the government or even knew they were in his home, so there was never an expectation that the former vice president would face charges. But the decision by the government and the timing are nonetheless good news for Pence’s political team before his entry into the 2024 contest.

Attorney General Merrick Garland had named a special counsel to oversee the Justice Department’s investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents, as well as Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, just three days after Trump formally launched his 2024 campaign — an acknowledgment of the high political stakes.

Documents with classified markings were discovered at Pence’s home in January after he asked his lawyers to search his vice presidential belongings. The items, which were promptly turned over to the FBI, “were inadvertently boxed and transported” to Pence’s home at the end of the last administration, Pence’s lawyer, Greg Jacob, wrote in a letter to the National Archives.

The FBI discovered an additional document with classified markings at the Indiana house during a search the following month.

Beyond Pence, Justice Department special counsels are continuing to investigate the handling of classified documents found at homes or offices of both Trump and President Joe Biden, from when he was vice president.

The status of the Biden documents investigation is unclear, but the Trump investigation has shown signs of winding down. Prosecutors appear close to a decision on whether to bring criminal charges against the ex-president or anyone else.

The team led by special counsel Jack Smith has placed a broad cross-section of witnesses before a federal grand jury investigating Trump, including former and close Trump aides. The investigation has centered on not only whether Trump illegally possessed roughly 300 documents marked as classified but also on whether he obstructed government efforts to secure their return.

The Biden and Pence matters have always stood apart, factually and legally, from the Trump investigation because in both of those cases, aides proactively disclosed the discovery of classified documents to the Justice Department and facilitated their return.

In the Trump investigation, Trump resisted months of demands to return classified documents taken with him from the White House to his Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago, after his term ended. After coming to suspect that more classified documents remained at the property, despite a subpoena and a visit by investigators, the FBI returned last August with a search warrant and recovered about 100 additional documents marked as classified, including at the top-secret level.