Joe Biden didn’t remember what year his beloved son Beau died. He wasn’t sure which years he served as Vice President. He had “limitations in his recall” during interviews with investigators. Those are all observations that Special Counsel Robert Hur decided to include in his 388-page report released Thursday on why he wasn’t pursuing charges against Biden over classified documents found in his Penn Biden Center office and his Wilmington home.
White House officials immediately thought Hur, a Republican and former Trump appointee, crossed a line, and implied some of those observations might not be true.
Hours later, Biden himself took things further, holding a rare evening press conference at the White House to furiously dispute Hur's characterizations of his mental acuity. Biden took particular umbrage with the report's allegation that he had forgotten when Beau had died. "How in the hell dare he raise that," Biden said.
"Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, wasn't any of their damn business," the President continued, adding that he carries with him every day a rosary that belonged to Beau and his family holds a service for Beau every Memorial Day. "I don't need anyone to remind me when he passed away," Biden said. "For any extraneous commentary, they don't know what they're talking about. It has no place in this report."
Fox News reporter Peter Doocy asked Biden to respond to the report's description of him as "a well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory."
"I'm well meaning and I'm an elderly man and I know what I'm doing. I've been President, I put this country back on his feet," Biden said. He then joked to Doocy: "My memory is so bad, I let you speak."
"My memory is fine," Biden went on. "Take a look at what I've done since I've become President. None of you thought I could pass any of the things I got passed. How'd that happen? I guess I just forgot what was going on."
But a few minutes later, Biden undercut those assurances while he answered a question about a ceasefire in Gaza, saying "Mexico" instead of "Egypt" when talking about Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi.
Biden's impromptu press conference capped a remarkable few hours at the White House following the report's release. While there was relief in Biden’s circle that a criminal case won’t be pursued, the special counsel’s descriptions played into existing concerns over Biden’s memory. The swiftness of the White House’s push back late Thursday was a reminder of the political stakes as both Biden’s and former President Donald Trump’s campaigns have questioned the other’s mental acuity.
The report comes at the end of a week when Biden was criticized for using wrong names for the leaders of France and Germany while giving remarks. An NBC News poll released Tuesday found that 62% of voters have major concerns that Biden doesn’t have the mental and physical health to be President for a second term.
Biden’s lawyers were quick to criticize Hur, a Republican, for including subjective descriptions of Biden’s mental acuity in his lengthy and detailed report. "We disagree with a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments in the Special Counsel’s report. Nonetheless, the most important decision the Special Counsel made—that no charges are warranted—is firmly based on the facts and evidence,” said Special Counsel to the President Richard Sauber.
Biden's personal lawyer Bob Bauer added in a separate statement that Hur had violated Justice Department norms by including “extraneous, unfounded and irrelevant critical commentary.”
In his report, Hur wrote that during both days of questioning in October Biden forgot which years he was vice president, and that Biden didn't remember, "even within several years," when his son Beau died. The report concluded that a trial would be hard to win and that Biden's legal team "would emphasize these limitations in his recall" to fend off a conviction.
Ahead of the report’s release, some people close to Biden were resigned to those damaging details, and the fact that there was little they could do to counteract them. “It is what it is,” says a White House official.
Hur served as Trump’s U.S. attorney for Maryland, and resigned from the position when Biden took office, a common practice among U.S. attorneys during a transition in the Oval Office. Last year, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur as a special counsel to oversee the ongoing investigation into the classified documents found on Biden’s classified documents investigation.
Soon after the report’s release, Biden addressed the House Democratic Caucus at an event Thursday evening in Leesburg, Virginia. The President described sitting down for his interview with Hur’s team on October 8 and 9, the two days following Hamas’ deadly massacre in Israel. “I was in the middle of handling an international crisis,” Biden told those gathered in a resort ballroom. Biden didn’t bring up Hur’s description of his memory lapses. Biden said he spoke to investigators for five hours over two days. “The special counsel acknowledged I cooperated completely. I did not throw up any roadblocks. I sought no delays,” Biden said.
The special counsel decided “no criminal charges are warranted" and that the evidence didn’t establish Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Hur found evidence that Biden had disclosed some sensitive information to a ghost writer and intentionally held on to some classified material, he wrote. The prosecutor concluded that Biden had left the White House with handwritten notes containing sensitive intelligence information and had shared that information with an author helping him write his 2017 memoir "Promise Me, Dad."
In his remarks Thursday evening in Virginia, Biden noted how different his documents investigation was to his predecessor. Trump has been charged with mishandling classified documents and obstructing justice by Special Counsel Jack Smith for taking boxes of classified documents to his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida, and his club in Bedminster, New Jersey. When the federal government discovered Trump had taken material home from the White House after leaving office, Trump refused for months to return it.
“I was especially pleased to see the senior Special Counsel make clear there’s stark differences between this case and Donald Trump,” Biden said. “Bottom line is the special counsel in my case decided against moving forward on any charges. This matter is now closed.”
The questions about Biden’s handling of classified documents may be wrapped up, but those around Biden’s memory are not.
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