By Maegan Vazquez, Marshall Cohen, MJ Lee, Arlette Saenz and Zachary Cohen, CNN
It was an office fit for a former vice president working in Washington — dark hardwood floors, plush seating and a spacious desk set to a lofty backdrop of the Capitol building.
This week, what took place inside that office — a think tank where President Joe Biden spent time after eight years in the Obama administration — has come under intense focus for the National Archives and the Justice Department, after revelations that classified materials from his time as vice president were discovered there.
The documents were discovered in November by the president’s personal attorneys when they were packing files housed in a locked closet as they prepared to vacate the office, the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, according to Biden’s White House lawyer. They were preparing to vacate the space less than five years after Biden had cut the ribbon to unveil it.
Images and a floor plan of the space, public records obtained by CNN, illustrate where Biden spent time after his vice presidency, attempting to build a foreign policy think tank.
When visitors seeking to go to the Penn Biden Center entered the building at 101 Constitution Avenue NW, they’d first need to check in with front desk staff in the lobby, according to sources familiar with the process. Visitors would then take the elevator up to the floor containing the Penn Biden Center offices.
It wouldn’t be uncommon to be told during a visit that Biden himself didn’t spend much time there, a source familiar with the office and its layout told CNN.
Past a door from the elevator banks, guests would walk into a reception area and were within a short pace of a large conference room that neighbored Biden’s office.
In the conference room, Biden was pictured speaking in a meeting with former Mexican President Felipe Calderon and, in another photo, speaking with UPenn students and alumni. Now-Secretary of State Antony Blinken was snapped laughing with a Japanese diplomat.
The former prime minister of Denmark, the head of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyiv Patriarchate and several Israeli politicians have also made stops to the think tank.
Biden hosted a holiday party, which included former staff, at the Penn Biden Center offices in 2018, a source familiar with the event said.
The conference room had a door leading directly to Biden’s personal office, which was furnished with tall, wooden display shelves, blue love seats and a plaque at Biden’s desk, reading, “Mr. Biden – Chairman” — an apparent nod to his time in the Senate, where he chaired the Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees. Somewhere in the Penn Biden Center, the source familiar with the layout noted, there was a dog bed.
Tucked away to the left of Biden’s desk, the floor plan shows, was a small closet. To his right, the conference room and office sandwiched a small closet and a large, walk-in sized storage space.
Past a corridor were a set of closed office suites surrounding a central gathering area; the source familiar with the layout estimated that there were perhaps a total of around 10-15 offices altogether. A source with direct knowledge said the closed offices were for senior staff and office had a dining room.
Kathy Chung, who was Biden’s executive assistant at the time, and one other person sat at a two-person administrative office directly outside of Biden’s office, according to the first source familiar with the layout. Chung, who now works at the Pentagon, was interviewed in the probe of classified documents found in Biden’s personal offices, according to a defense official. She has not responded to CNN’s attempts to contact her.
Chung is among several Penn Biden Center members who later joined the Biden administration, including officials at the White House, Pentagon and other diplomatic roles.
Biden’s lawyers and the Department of Justice have not disclosed where the documents were found within the office, other than they were in a locked closet. Floor plans show that at the Biden Penn Center, closets and storage were scattered throughout the space.
The office was never a US Secret Service location because Biden lost his federal protection in mid-2017, as is protocol, after he finished his term as vice president. The Secret Service protection of Biden resumed in March 2020, when he became the presumptive Democratic nominee, though Secret Service agents never had any relationship with the Penn Biden Center.
The building is a short walk from the US Capitol, and a few steps away from the federal courthouse serving Washington, DC. It’s the same court where special counsel Jack Smith’s grand jury is currently convened, which is investigating former President Donald Trump’s own issues with classified documents. And it would likely be home to Robert Hur’s grand jury, if he chooses to use one in his newly established special counsel investigation. Hur was appointed as special counsel to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents on Thursday. The White House said earlier this week that classified documents also were found at Biden’s home in Wilmington, Delaware.
The building is also home to law firms, lobbyists and trade groups, like the National Mining Association. There’s also the Charlie Palmer Steak restaurant — where Washington insiders are often spotted.
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CNN’s Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.