WASHINGTON (AP) — Special Counsel Robert Hur on Thursday released his long-awaited report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, concluding that Biden had “willfully” retained and disclosed highly classified materials when he was a private citizen. The report also highlighted Biden’s confusion and “significantly limited” recalls of events related to the documents, saying he came across in interviews as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” The report concluded that Biden should not be charged with a crime, a key difference from Donald Trump’s situation.
Some takeaways from the 345-page report:
Even though it recommends no criminal charges, the Hur report does damage to Biden’s case that he brings normalcy to the presidency after the chaos of Trump’s tenure.
Images of federal agents finding a classified Biden memo on Afghanistan from his time as vice president stashed in his Delaware garage work against the Democratic president’s argument that he’s a more competent chief executive and a more careful steward of the nation’s secrets than Trump.
Trump is under criminal indictment for knowingly hanging on to to classified records at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and resisting turning them over, perhaps the most damning — and stickiest — of the four criminal cases against him. Biden, for his part, faces no charges.
Weeks after the FBI searched Trump’s private residence and turned up classified documents, Biden slammed his predecessor as “totally irresponsible.”
As Biden ramps up his 2024 reelection campaign — and his case against Trump — he’s not likely to try that argument again.
The 81-year-old Biden was already dogged by questions about whether he’s too old to serve a second term. The special counsel report will hardly be helpful to Biden on that count.
Hur noted that “Mr. Biden’s memory was significantly limited” in interviews with the special counsel office as well as with a ghostwriter that Biden worked with.
In his interview with the special counsel’s office, Hur writes, Biden twice appeared confused about when his term as vice president ended. The report notes that Biden, who speaks frequently about his son Beau’s death, could not remember “even within several years” when he died.
“And his memory appeared hazy when describing the Afghanistan debate that was once so important to him,” the report said. “Among other things, he mistakenly said he ‘had a real difference’ of opinion with General Karl Eikenberry, when, in fact, Eikenberry was an ally whom Mr. Biden cited approvingly in his Thanksgiving memo to President Obama.”
Polls have shown that many Americans, including Democrats, have concerns about Biden’s age. He would be 86 at the end of his second term if reelected.
Biden was absolved of criminal behavior, but it’s Trump who may benefit.
The Republican former president, who is on a glidepath to his party’s nomination this year, has been charged with dozens of felony counts related to his handling of classified materials stored at his Florida estate after leaving the White House. Trump has been crying foul on the campaign trail for much of the last year, noting that Biden had also stored classified materials in his garage.
Thursday’s report will have little bearing on Trump’s legal case, but it makes his political argument stronger.
There are, of course, stark differences between how Trump and Biden navigated their classified document cases. Biden cooperated with authorities. Trump fought them to the point that the investigators had to get a court order to search his home in Florida after he repeatedly rebuffed requests for the documents.
Still, Trump can now cite special counsel Robert Hur’s finding that Biden retained and disclosed highly classified materials. And Trump can at least muddy the Democrats’ argument that he alone represents a threat to democracy. Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller simply shared a smiley face in one social media post responding to Hur’s report.
But Trump still has another important hurdle: special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation in Washington that charges Trump with crimes for his role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
The parallels are striking.
An embattled candidate Trump was struggling under the weight of mounting political crises on the eve of the general election that year when federal prosecutors made an unusual announcement about his Democratic opponent’s handling of classified documents: Hillary Clinton’s emails.
In late October of 2016, FBI Director James Comey announced that Clinton would not face criminal charges, but had made a “serious error of judgment” in her handling of State Department emails on her private email server. It was a legal victory for her. But the politics were bad for Democrats.
Some are convinced that Comey’s decision to criticize Clinton so openly — even while ruling out criminality — ultimately enabled Trump’s victory.
The timing is dramatically different this time.
Comey’s announcement was just 11 days before the 2016 general election, while Thursday’s comes nine months before Election Day 2024. That gives Biden’s campaign a lot more time to do what Clinton could not — convince voters that the legal victory is what matters.
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