A special counsel investigating President Biden’s handling of classified materials released his findings on Thursday after a roughly yearlong investigation.
Robert Hur’s 388-page report detailed how Biden “willfully” retained classified documents, and it offered a stark assessment of the 81-year-old’s memory and abilities to recall information. The special counsel concluded his investigation without bringing any charges.
The documents were discovered at an office previously used by Biden, igniting a later search of his home.
In addition to handwritten notes he took while in office, authorities collected 90 documents from his property, of which a little more than 50 contained classified markings.
Here are five takeaways on the report.
Biden retained docs of ‘great personal significance to him’
Hur describes Biden as being someone who viewed himself as “a man of presidential timber” who “collected papers and artifacts related to significant issues and events in his career.”
Among the records kept by Biden were his handwritten notes, as well as records related to the Obama administration’s approach to Afghanistan, which he feared could turn into another Vietnam.
“Mr. Biden’s views endured sharp criticism from others within and outside of the administration. But he always believed history would prove him right,” Hur observed.
“These materials were proof of the stand Mr. Biden took in what he regarded as among the most important decisions of his vice presidency,” the report states.
Biden also viewed his notes as his own property, reflections on his career that he also relied on while speaking to a ghostwriter to helped him with his book.
“During our interview of him, Mr. Biden was emphatic, declaring that his notebooks are ‘my property’ and that ‘every president before me has done the exact same thing,’” Hur wrote, noting that Biden cited the diaries that President Reagan kept in his private home after leaving office, which also included classified information.
The report also accuses Biden of on three instances improperly reading from his notebook about events or issues relating to classified information.
Biden world accuses Hur of overstepping
Biden issued a statement following the report’s release, emphasizing he cooperated with the investigation and “threw up no roadblocks.”
But the response from others in his orbit was less restrained and laid bare the frustration Biden’s allies had with Hur’s decision to discuss the president’s memory at length.
White House special counsel Richard Sauber and Biden’s personal attorney Bob Bauer wrote to Hur on Monday, calling his description of Biden’s memory “gratuitous” and asking him to revise his language.
“It is one thing to observe President Biden’s memory as being ‘significantly limited’ on certain subjects. It is quite another to use the more sweeping and highly prejudicial language employed later in the report,” the two wrote.
Bauer, in a statement released Thursday, accused Hur of “investigative excess” and flouting Justice Department regulations around special counsel investigations.
“Very little in this opus adds to a clear, succinctly stated understanding of a straightforward conclusion: no misconduct occurred, no charges are warranted,” Bauer wrote.
Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House counsel’s office, called the criticisms of Biden’s memory “inaccurate, gratuitous and wrong.”
The frustration was reminiscent of October 2016, when Democrats accused then-FBI Director James Comey of overstepping his duties and tipping the scales in the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
Hur describes Biden as ‘elderly man with a poor memory’
The top-line determination that Biden would not face charges was quickly displaced by another prominent thread in Hur’s report: That the president frequently had memory issues during discussions with the ghostwriter of his memoir and with federal investigators.
“We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Hur wrote. “Based on our direct interactions with and observations of him, he is someone for whom many jurors will want to identify reasonable doubt. It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him-by then a former president well into his eighties-of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”
Hur wrote that Biden’s memory “was significantly limited, both during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017, and in his interview with our office in 2023.”
The special counsel wrote that Biden “did not remember when he was vice president,” forgetting at one point when his term ended, and in another instance forgetting when his term began. Hur reported Biden did not remember when his son Beau had died, and his memory “appeared hazy” when speaking about a debate over Afghanistan that was critical to his memoirs.
Hur’s frequent references to Biden’s memory will likely rile the White House, which is already grappling with voter concerns about the president’s age amid a reelection campaign. Biden is 81 and would be 86 at the end of a potential second term.
Hur said prosecutors faced serious roadblocks to scoring a potential conviction
While Hur’s comments about Biden’s age and memory will no doubt sting on the campaign trail, the special counsel’s rationale for not bringing charges rests both on the law and Biden’s ability to cast doubt on claims he intentionally kept the records.
The Espionage Act prohibits “willful” retention of national defense information, placing a burden on prosecutors to show violators kept documents intentionally.
It’s a task made more difficult given that Biden alerted authorities to his possession of the documents.
“His cooperation with our investigation, including by reporting to the government that the Afghanistan documents were in his Delaware garage, will likely convince some jurors that he made an innocent mistake, rather than acting willfully — that is, with intent to break the law-as the statute requires,” Hur wrote.
But there were also other factors that backed Biden’s stance that he was unaware the records were in his home.
The Afghanistan documents were “in Mr. Biden’s Delaware garage — in a badly damaged box surrounded by household detritus,” Hur said.
“Several defenses are likely to create reasonable doubt as to such charges,” Hur wrote, making clear he feared a jury would not be comfortable with a guilty verdict.
Republicans seize on report
While Hur cleared Biden of criminal wrongdoing, Republicans still found plenty to highlight in the report.
The special counsel’s repeated criticisms of Biden’s memory were a gift to Republicans with Election Day less than nine months away and polls showing many voters already concerned about Biden’s ability to serve a second term.
“A man too incapable of being held accountable for mishandling classified information is certainly unfit for the Oval Office,” members of House GOP leadership, including Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), said in a statement.
“If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president. Joe Biden is unfit to lead this nation,” Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for the pro-Trump super PAC Make America Great Again Inc., said in a statement.
Trump himself seized on Hur’s findings to try and argue his own criminal charges over retaining classified materials after leaving office were no longer legitimate.
“This is 100 times more severe. This is two standards of justice and it has to end in our country,” Trump told Fox News Digital. “Deranged Jack Smith should drop the case immediately against us.”
Trump is facing a total of 40 charges in Florida over his retention and handling of classified materials after leaving office. Prosecutors allege he willfully retained national defense information and obstructed the government’s attempt to retrieve the documents. Trump has pleaded not guilty in the case.
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