By JILL COLVIN
NEW YORK (AP) -- Documents with classified markings were discovered in former Vice President Mike Pence's Indiana residence last week, his lawyer says, the latest in a string of recoveries of confidential information from the homes of current and former top U.S. officials.
The records, which were taken into FBI custody, "appear to be a small number of documents bearing classified markings that were inadvertently boxed and transported to the personal home of the former vice president at the end of the last administration," Pence's lawyer, Greg Jacob, wrote in a letter to the National Archives shared with The Associated Press.
He said that Pence had been "unaware of the existence of sensitive or classified documents at his personal residence" until a search last week and "understands the high importance of protecting sensitive and classified information and stands ready and willing to cooperate fully with the National Archives and any appropriate inquiry."
The revelation came as the Department of Justice was already investigating the discovery of documents with classification markings in President Joe Biden's home in Delaware and his former Washington office, as well as former President Donald Trump's Florida estate. Democrat Biden has indicated he will seek reelection, Trump is already a declared candidate, and Republican Pence has been exploring a possible 2024 presidential campaign that would put him direct competition against his former boss.
The newest discovery, which was first reported by CNN, thrusts Pence, who had previously insisted that he followed stringent protocols regarding classified documents, into the debate over the handling of secret materials by officials who have served in the highest ranks of government.
Trump is currently under criminal investigation after roughly 300 documents with classified markings, including at the top-secret level, were discovered at Mar-a-Lago. Officials are trying to determine whether Trump or anyone else should be charged with illegal possession of those records or with trying to obstruct the months-long criminal investigation. Biden is also subject to a special counsel investigation after classified documents from his time as a senator and in the Obama administration were found at his properties.
Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, reacted to the new development on his social media site: "Mike Pence is an innocent man. He never did anything knowingly dishonest in his life. Leave him alone!!!"
While a very different case, the Pence development could bolster the arguments of Trump and Biden, who have sought to downplay the significance of the discoveries. The presence of secret documents at all three men's homes further underscores the federal government's unwieldy system for storing and protecting the millions of classified documents it produces every year.
Pence told the Associated Press in August that he did not take any classified information with him when he left office.
Asked directly if he had retained any such information, he said, "No, not to my knowledge."
On Capitol Hill, members of the Senate intelligence committee expressed incredulity over the mishandling of documents by top U.S. officials.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas noted that classified documents are only moved out of the committee's offices in locked bags. "In my book, it's never permissible to take classified documents outside of a secure facility or by some secure means of transport in between those secure facilities," he said.
House Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner, a Republican, said he planned to request a formal intelligence review and damage assessment.