June 12, 2024

Two people who worked in previous administrations, who asked for anonymity to discuss classified material, said officials in the intel shop were typically relentless about making sure the most highly classified documents were given back. Some of those documents are even numbered, to make it easier to trace classified information to a particular person.

One of the people who handled such documents in a previous administration said that a “sliver” of information is protected by the C.I.A. that is highly compartmentalized and very hard to print, and when it is printed, it is usually tracked.

If that kind of information is revealed to be part of the documents found in the homes of Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump or Mr. Pence, the former official said, it would be a breach of the classified information handling rules. It would mean, the official said, that either staff members failed in their duty to keep track of the documents or that someone was trying to willfully keep them in an unauthorized way.

The rules governing the handling of classified documents have been in place at the White House for decades, according to people familiar with them, though how strictly to follow them is up to each president and his aides.

Mr. Trump was frequently more lax with classified information than his peers. In 2019, he posted a classified photo on Twitter of an accident during a rocket launch in Iran. It was later revealed he had taken a photo of the classified image from a briefing document and then posted it.

It remains unclear how classified documents found in Mr. Biden’s home, and at an office he used in Washington, D.C., after leaving the vice presidency, got there. The president’s lawyers have said they date from his time as vice president and senator and have suggested that boxes were inadvertently moved from his White House office when it was packed up at the end of his vice presidency.

The classified information that circulates the White House typically does not contain the government’s most prized secrets. It usually relates to diplomatic or military information, sensitive law enforcement discussions or merely debates that are ongoing and would be damaging if they leaked out, according to people who have worked in previous White Houses.

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