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Biden won't face charges over docs, says memory is fine

An "elderly" President Joe Biden will not face charges for knowingly taking classified documents when he left the vice-presidency in 2017, a prosecutor says, drawing a swift rebuke from the president as he seeks re-election.

Special counsel Robert Hur says in a report that he opted against criminal charges following a 15-month investigation because Biden co-operated and would be difficult to convict, describing him as a "well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory".

Biden, in an angry rebuttal on Thursday, said his "memory is fine".

Brimming with emotion during remarks at the White House, he lashed out at the lawyer's suggestion he had forgotten when his son Beau had died and said the accusation that he had wilfully kept the classified material was "just plain wrong".

Hur's conclusion ensures Biden, unlike his expected 2024 presidential rival Donald Trump, will not risk prison time for mishandling sensitive documents.

The access road to President Joe Biden's home in Wilmington, Delaware
Biden's legal team found classified papers at his personal residence in Wilmington, Delaware. (AP PHOTO)

But it will cause further embarrassment for Biden, 81, as the oldest person to serve as US president tries to convince voters that he should serve another four-year term.

"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," wrote Hur, who was tapped to lead the Biden probe by Attorney-General Merrick Garland in January 2023.

Biden noted the special counsel drew a distinction between him and Trump, 77: Biden returned the documents while Trump allegedly declined to do so.

The president pushed back against descriptions of his recall: "My memory is fine," he said.

At one point during his remarks Biden appeared to confuse the presidents of Mexico and Egypt.

Trump has described the four criminal prosecutions he faces as politically motivated.

"THIS HAS NOW PROVEN TO BE A TWO-TIERED SYSTEM OF JUSTICE AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL SELECTIVE PROSECUTION!" Trump wrote on social media.

Hur wrote that Biden's memory was "severely limited" when prosecutors interviewed him.

Biden forgot what years his term began and ended as vice-president under Barack Obama, Hur wrote, and he forgot what year his son Beau died.

Biden grew emotional about the inclusion of his son in the report.

"How in the hell dare he raise that. Frankly, when I was asked the question I thought to myself, it wasn't any of their damn business," Biden said.

Biden's personal and White House lawyers criticised the report's "inaccurate and inappropriate comments" and said his memory lapses were not unusual for someone trying to describe events that took place years ago.

A box where classified documents were found in Joe Biden's garage
The report contained a photo of a damaged box containing classified documents at Biden's home. (AP PHOTO)

Hur found that Biden took a handwritten memo to then-president Obama in 2009 opposing a planned troop surge in Afghanistan, and notes related to intelligence briefings and national security meetings.

Biden told his ghostwriter in 2017, a month after leaving the vice-presidency, that he had "just found all the classified stuff" downstairs in a home he was renting in Virginia, referring to documents on the US war in Afghanistan.

Hur's report found Biden read aloud classified notebook passages to his ghostwriter on at least three occasions recounting meetings in the White House Situation Room.

Biden said he did not share classified information but conceded he should have paid better attention to the transfer of material when he left the vice-presidency.

Hur wrote that Biden's actions "present serious risks to national security", but the documents might have been taken to Biden's home while he was vice-president, when he had the authority to keep such documents.

Members of Biden's legal team found the papers at the office of Biden's Washington think tank and his residence in Wilmington, Delaware.

Trump faces a 40-count indictment for retaining national security documents at his Florida resort after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing US government efforts to retrieve them.

While the two cases have similarities, there are also notable differences.

The White House said Biden's lawyers found a small number of classified documents and turned them over after discovery.

Trump resisted doing so until a 2022 FBI search turned up about 100 classified documents, leading to obstruction of justice charges against Trump and two employees at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Trump has pleaded not guilty. A trial is scheduled for May but is likely to be delayed.