EXPLAINER: The What, Why, How Much and How Often Behind Classified Information in the U.S.

Leaders in the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives have seized on reports that classified documents were found at President Joe Biden’s personal residence and at

a university think tank tied to him, eager to equate the revelations with the ongoing federal investigation into highly sensitive documents that former President Donald Trump had

at his Mar-a-Lago compound. Both instances led the Justice Department to launch special counsel investigations to establish the circumstances behind the taking and the

returning of the materials – but not before opponents on each side of the political spectrum sought to use the discoveries as proof of wrongdoing. Biden supporters insist

that the investigations will show that the president, unlike his predecessor, followed procedures for addressing what was an accidental – and not uncommon – mishandling of

classified documents, unlike Trump and his surrogates, who have sought to frame the entire episode as evidence of a government-sponsored smear campaign. But the more recent

disc0very of such materials at the home of former Vice President Mike Pence suggests the phenomenon is more widespread than previously thought. And while little is known about the

nature of the materials recovered in all of the cases, the speculation over what they might include has cast new light on what types of materials get classified, what agencies

classify them, why, and for how long?