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President Biden's troubles with classified documents grew over the weekend


One of President Biden's closest advisers is stepping back.


Ron Klain has been a Biden strategist for many years. He's expected to leave his job as chief of staff next month, although the exact timing is uncertain. NPR has confirmed the president has selected a replacement - Jeff Zients, the former COVID response coordinator. The many challenges that Zients will face include an investigation of the president's handling of classified documents. The FBI searched Biden's Delaware home on Friday.

FADEL: NPR's Tamara Keith is here to talk about all this.

Hi, Tam.


FADEL: So let's start with the documents. Didn't the president's lawyers say they'd already found everything?

KEITH: Oh, indeed they had. But on Friday, the FBI went to Wilmington for this truly extraordinary search of a sitting president's home. The president wasn't there, but his lawyers were. And they said that they kept the search quiet, as it was happening at the request of the Justice Department. And according to Biden's team, the FBI did find additional items with classified markings dating back as far as his time in the Senate. So any hope in the White House of this issue quickly fading - it's back front and center with more documents being found.

FADEL: So Jeff Zients is expected to replace Ron Klain as chief of staff sometime soon. Why him? Why now?

KEITH: You know, being White House chief of staff is a meat grinder of a job, and Klain helped usher through a surprising number of legislative accomplishments in these first two years. And then he saw Biden through the midterms. People who know him say he is exhausted. And also, this is a new phase of the Biden presidency that's starting. Biden is likely launching a reelection campaign soon and will be dealing with both these congressional investigations that we're expecting, as well as the special counsel investigation related to classified documents. As far as Zients, he has known Biden a long time. He was on the transition team, and then he took on this Herculean task of getting hundreds of millions of COVID vaccine doses into the arms of Americans in the early days of the administration.

Dr. Anthony Fauci worked with him closely, and he said that in addition to being a very good manager, Zients can also be an effective gatekeeper, which is a key part of the job.

ANTHONY FAUCI: Fundamentally, he's a really good guy and a very likable guy. But when he has to say no, he says no in a nonconfrontative (ph) way. But no is no (laughter).

FADEL: So as you said, there are investigations, political battles ahead. Do you have a sense of his possible approach there?

KEITH: He was a budget director under President Obama and has strong business connections, and that could help with the specter of a high-stakes political fight over the debt ceiling coming up. I spoke to Cedric Richmond, who is a senior adviser now at the DNC.

CEDRIC RICHMOND: The Hill Republicans are going to overplay their hand. And with a calm, cool and collected chief of staff like Jeff, it will show how clear it is that they're not ready to govern and that they feed off of chaos.

KEITH: That is certainly the White House plan for this. You know, in the Obama years, Zients was known as Mr. Fix It for rescuing HealthCare.gov after a catastrophic rollout. So he is no stranger to crisis. But based on the conversations I had over the weekend with half a dozen people in the White House orbit, I have to say that the thing that they kept coming back to was this idea of his ability to implement. And there are three sprawling pieces of legislation passed over the last two years involving a lot of government spending, and they need to be implemented.

FADEL: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thank you so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.