President Joe Biden on Thursday evening strongly disputed new claims by Department of Justice special counsel Robert Hur that he “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials” as a private citizen, and that he had exhibited poor memory during an interview about that material.
“My memory has not gotten worse,” Biden told reporters in a nationally televised address at the White House hours after Hur released his report.
“My memory is fine.”
“I’m an elderly man, and I know what the hell I’m doing,” Biden said, in response to a reporter’s question that noted Hur’s reference to the president as elderly.
“I’ve been president and I put this country back on its feet. I don’t need his recommendation,” Biden said.
But minutes later, Biden referred to Egypt’s president as the “president of Mexico.”
Biden was visibly angry at Hur’s claim that he could not remember the year his son Beau Biden died, which the special counsel cited among other examples of evidence that Biden’s memory “appeared hazy” during interviews with investigators.
The president said that when he was asked a question about that year Beau died “I thought to myself [it] wasn’t any of their damn business.”
“How in the hell dare he raise that,” Biden said of Hur. “I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away.”
U.S. President Joe Biden gestures as he delivers remarks at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 8, 2024.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
The main legal takeaway from Hur’s report was the special counsel’s decision not to criminally charge Biden despite what Hur said was the president’s willful retention of classified documents and disclosure of some classified material to the ghostwriter of his 2017 memoir.
The material was retained in Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home, and at an office in Washington, D.C., after he ceased being vice president in January 2017.
Biden’s lawyers have said the material began being found in late 2022, months after former President Donald Trump was indicted on charges related to retaining classified documents at his Florida residence after he left the White House, and to his obstructing efforts by officials to recover those documents.
Biden said, “I’ve seen the headlines since the report was released about my willful retention of documents.”
“These assertions are not only misleading, they’re just plain wrong,” the president said.
Biden forcefully denied sharing the material with the writer.
And the president noted that Hur on page 215 of the same report wrote that “while it is natural to assume that Mr. Biden put the Afghanistan documents in the box on purpose and that he knew they were there, there is in fact a shortage of evidence on these points.”
“We do not know why, how, or by whom the documents were placed in the box,” the report had said.
On page 12 of the report, Biden noted, the special counsel wrote, “For other recovered classified documents, after a thorough investigation the decision to decline criminal charges was straightforward.”
Those classified documents were found in a Washington, D.C., office Biden had used after he ended his tenure as vice president in January 2017, and in collections of his U.S. Senate papers at the University of Delaware.
“The evidence suggests that Mr. Biden did not willfully retain these documents and that they could plausibly have been brought to these locations by mistake,” the report said.
Despite that language, Hur in his report used evidence of what he said was Biden’s “poor memory” to further justify his decision not to criminally charge the president.
“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,” the special counsel said in his report.
Hur’s repeated references to Biden’s memory sparked a bitter backlash from the White House and Biden’s supporters before the president made his televised address.
Biden’s lawyers in a letter to Hur appended to the report wrote, “We do not believe that the report’s treatment of President Biden’s memory is accurate or appropriate.”
“The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events,” the lawyers wrote.
Biden, in his comments Thursday night said, “For any extraneous commentary, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” referring to Hur’s remarks about his memory.
“It has no place in that report.”
Biden said that he should have personally overseen the transfer of boxes from his vice presidential office in 2017, as opposed to relying on staff to perform that task.
“I take responsibility for not having seen exactly what my staff was doing,” he said.
“And so I wish I had paid more attention to how the documents were being moved to where I thought they’d be moved to, the [National] Archives,” he said, referring to the legal repository for governmental records.
Biden also contrasted his conduct to that of Trump’s.
“All the stuff that was in my home was in filing cabinets that were either locked or able to be locked,” Biden said. “It was in my house. It was out, and like in [Trump’s private club] Mar-a-Lago in a public place … and none of it was highly classified.”
Biden said he agreed with the decision by Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a special counsel to investigate his retention of the documents. In doing so, Garland, who was appointed by Biden to lead the Department of Justice, sought to avoid an appearance of conflict that could arise from having the department itself conduct the probe.
Hur previously was U.S. Attorney for Maryland. He was appointed to that post by Trump.
“I think a special counsel should have been appointed,” Biden said.
“And the reason I think a special counsel should have been appointed is because I did not want to be in a position [where] they looked at Trump and weren’t going to look at me, just like they looked at [Trump’s] vice president” Mike Pence, who also was not criminally charged for retaining classified documents after a DOJ investigation ended last June.
“And the fact is they [Hur] made a firm conclusion: I did not break the law, period,” Biden said.