How the ghostwriter of Biden's memoirs ended up in the center of a classified documents probe

President Joe Biden speaks to the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference at Lansdowne Resort, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024 In Leesburg, Va. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden worked so closely with the ghostwriter with whom he is accused of sharing classified secrets that he once declared that he'd trust the author with his life.

Mark Zwonitzer worked with Biden on two memoirs, 2007's “Promises to Keep” and “Promise Me, Dad," which was published 10 years later. According to a report released Thursday by special counsel Robert Hur, Biden was sloppy in his handling of classified material found at his home and former office, and shared classified information contained in some of them with Zwonitzer while the two were working on the Biden's second book.

Hur's report says no criminal charges are warranted against Biden. It says his office considered charging Zwonitzer with obstruction of justice because the ghostwriter destroyed recordings of interviews he conducted with Biden while they worked on his second memoir together once he learned of the documents investigation. But Hur also said Zwonitzer offered “plausible, innocent reasons” for having done so and cooperated with investigators subsequently, meaning the evidence against him was likely “insufficient to obtain a conviction.”

Hours after the report was released, Biden addressed reporters at the White House and spoke to what he shared with Zwonitzer, saying, “I did not share classified information” adding he didn't do so "with my ghostwriter. Guarantee you I did not.”

Zwonitzer did not immediately return messages seeking comment.

Years earlier, in an interview Biden conducted as part of the Audible audiobook version of “Promise Me, Dad,” Biden called Zwonitzer a “great, great guy" and said, "I trust him with my life.”

He added that Zwonitzer “helped me organize; that was his great asset to me.”

It may feel like less of one now.

Hur's report says Biden saved notebooks from his time as vice president that contained classified information and used them to help Zwonitzer put together his memoir — sometimes reading from them verbatim for more than hour at a time. Biden did that, the report says, despite being aware from when he once suggested that Zwonitzer could be hired as historian for the Office of the Vice President, that the author did not have security clearance.

The report details one of the boxes recovered by federal investigators was labeled “mark Z,” and that one recorded conversation with Zwonitzer in 2017 had Biden saying that he’d “just found all the classified stuff downstairs” of a home he was then renting in Virginia.

Biden spoke to that incident Thursday night and, when pressed that Hur’s reports suggested he had read classified documents to his ghostwriter responded, “It did not say that.”

“What I didn’t want repeated, I didn’t want him to know — and I didn’t read it to him — was, I had written a long memorandum to President (Barack) Obama, why we should not be in Afghanistan and it was multiple pages,” Biden said of his discussions with Zwonitzer. “And so, what I was referring to when I said classified, I should have said it should be private because it was a contact between the president and vice president as to what was going on.”

Biden added, "it was not classified information in that document. That was not classified.”

Though the report concludes that the published finished product of “Promise Me, Dad” did not contain classified information, it says that Zwonitzer deleted recordings he made during his previous conservations with Biden after he learned about the special counsel's probe.

But it also says that Zwonitzer offered explanations for his deletions and made available transcripts of the recordings. Additionally, he gave investigators his notes and the computer and external hard drive from which the recordings were removed, which allowed authorities to recover most of what had been deleted.

Biden is a well-known fan of “What It Takes,” Richard Ben Cramer’s exhaustive account of the 1988 Democratic and Republican presidential primaries. Biden was then a Delaware senator mounting his first White House run.

In 2006, when he wanted to begin work on what became his first memoir, Biden contacted Zwonitzer, who was Ben Cramer’s researcher on “What it Takes."

After opting not to run for president in 2015, Biden again contacted Zwonitzer and the two reunited to work on “Promise Me, Dad.”