WASHINGTON (AP) — As Joe Biden considered his next move in 2017 after decades in government, he considered a familiar path — creating a Washington-based think tank to focus on international affairs and diplomacy. It turned out to be an easy and lucrative sale too.
Soft landings in the capital are common for officials with resumes like Biden’s, and the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement was born, with a grand view of the Capitol.
The former vice-president brought with him trusted personnel and boxes of files. Now a small batch of those files are at the center of controversy because some were classified documents that Biden was not allowed to keep.
The brilliance of Ivy League academia and its lofty ambitions was blunted by this month’s revelation that the sensitive documents were found last fall in a locked closet as Biden’s lawyers packed up his former office. In the center. The finding poses a test for Biden just as he eyes a 2024 re-election campaign.
It turns out that politics has always been part of the equation.
In an initial meeting at the center in February 2018, Biden told longtime foreign policy aides — including many from the Obama-Biden administration — that he was keeping his options open for a possible 2020 presidential campaign and that he would welcome them with pleasure. team if he decided to run.
Sure enough, after hosting a handful of forums at the center and speaking a few times on the main campus of the University of Pennsylvania, Biden announced his candidacy in April 2019. And after that, he was rarely at the center on Capitol Hill. , which continued to operate. quietly since its namesake leader left.
Its relatively low profile is now a thing of the past.
Congressional Republicans are asking about the center’s budget and hiring practices and the FBI may want to search the premises for more documents, as it did at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.
Affiliated with the School of Philadelphia, the Penn Biden Center says it was founded on the principle that “a democratic, open, safe, tolerant, and interconnected world benefits all Americans.”
According to Biden’s tax returns, the university paid him about $900,000 over about two years, beginning right after he left office when Donald Trump and Mike Pence took over the White House. In addition to the center, Biden has also held positions at the school where he would speak on campus.
While center staff continued to conduct research, serve as media experts and write articles on foreign policy after Biden’s departure, no new work has been listed on the center’s website. over the past 10 months or so.
Elliott Abrams, who held foreign policy posts for presidents of the Reagan, George W. Bush and Trump administrations, said he has not developed as an influential think tank.
“It started out as a parking lot for Biden people until he ran for president, and never really got past that start,” Abrams said.
Many of Biden’s current White House allies scoured the think tank, according to public records and the Penn Biden Center website.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken served as the center’s chief executive from May 2017 to June 2019. Michael Carpenter served as chief executive before being named U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Other staff at the center included Steve Ricchetti, now a senior adviser to Biden. There are at least seven other Biden staffers who were at the center and are now involved in national security issues in the administration.
Even Amy Gutmann, the university president at the time who helped start the center, now works for him. She is the US Ambassador to Germany.
Biden himself has a long history with the Ivy League school; his late son Beau, daughter Ashley and granddaughter Naomi all graduated. Biden received an honorary degree from Penn in 2013 after delivering the commencement address.
Biden frequently worked out of the Constitution Avenue center as he quietly planned his presidential run, according to his aides, but he spent no time there after announcing his candidacy. His lawyers had finally decided to empty the office when they came across the classified documents last November.
Biden told reporters he was surprised to learn the documents were there. The records were immediately turned over to the Justice Department, but the discovery of records there and at Biden’s home led to an investigation by special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Trump, too, is facing a special counsel investigation over classified documents. In his case, FBI agents executed a warrant that showed they were investigating possible crimes, including the deliberate withholding of national defense information and efforts to obstruct the federal investigation. Biden voluntarily authorized the FBI search of his home.
Former officials at all levels of government discover they are in possession of classified documents and turn them over to authorities at least several times a year, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of classified documents.
Still, the existence of the documents at the Penn Biden Center has formed unwanted criticism of the think tank, particularly from House Republicans investigating the mishandling of classified documents. They requested a list of all center employees, including dates of employment and salaries, visitor logs, and security-related documents and communications.
A conservative legal group led by former Trump advisers has complained to the IRS about the center’s hiring of Biden and his allies.
House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chairman Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., Suggested that some of the tens of millions of dollars in foreign donations to the university from patrons in China went to the Penn Biden Center.
Donors from Ireland, Hong Kong, Canada, India, Japan and Brazil have also contributed to the university in recent years, although the House has focused on donations from China.
A statement from the university said the school would respond to questions from the committee in a timely manner, but never solicited donations for the center. There were three unsolicited donations from two donors totaling $1,100.
The centre’s budget comes solely from university funds. The university’s total academic operating budget is approximately $4 billion. Penn Biden Center officials did not say how much of that amount went to center operations.
“It is important to reiterate that the Penn Biden Center has never solicited or received any gifts from any Chinese or other foreign entity,” the Penn Biden Center statement said.
Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.