Special counsel Robert Hur said in his report that while Biden “wilfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen,” no criminal charges were warranted.
The president rejected those findings in a press briefing on Thursday, saying any claim he had wilfully retained the papers was “misleading and just plain wrong.” He moved to cast the episode as far different than the documents found at former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
“It wasn’t out there like in Mar-a-Lago, in a public place,” Biden said. “I wish I had paid more attention to how the documents were being moved. I thought it was being moved into the archives, I thought all of it was being moved.”
“They made a firm conclusion,” he added. “I did not break the law, period.”
Thursday’s release concludes a yearlong saga after the president’s aides informed the government they had found a small cache of classified documents at his home in Delaware and a former office. Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur in January 2023, saying at the time the DOJ was “committed to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters.”
Among the documents Biden held were “papers and artefacts related to significant issues and events in his career,” including ones about US policy in Afghanistan. Biden kept these records because “he always believed history would prove him right” on his opposition to escalating US involvement there, Hur said.
“These materials were proof of the stand Mr Biden took in what he regarded as among the most important decisions of his vice presidency,” Hur found.
Biden did not reveal any of this classified material in his 2017 memoir, but he did share some of the documents with his ghostwriter, the report noted.
Hur also concluded that it would be extremely difficult to convince jurors of wrongdoing by Biden because he 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.”
Biden addressed those assertions during the briefing on Thursday.
“My memory is fine,” the president said, before lashing out at a Fox News reporter who asked about this mental fitness. “My memory is so bad I let you speak.”
There’s also plenty to suggest that the documents, which were kept in “a badly damaged box surrounded by household detritus,” might have simply been “forgotten,” the report found, saying that’s enough to “convince some jurors that he made an innocent mistake, rather than acting willfully.”
Biden spoke with Hur voluntarily for two days in October, and the White House stressed at the time that the president was cooperating fully with the investigation. The Justice Department still maintains that a sitting president can not be charged with a crime, but Biden’s aides could have faced charges if investigators had uncovered any impropriety.
The episode is almost sure to play a critical role in the mudslinging ahead of the November election even though Biden’s actions are far different from those of Trump.
Trump has been indicted and charged with 40 criminal counts for his own handling of classified documents after he left the White House. Federal prosecutors have leveled charges of willful retention of documents and obstruction of justice against the former president, claims Trump has rejected as a political witch hunt.
Hur addressed in his report why the probe into Trump recommended charges, while the one into Biden did not.
“Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite. According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it,” Hur wrote.
“In contrast,” he continued, “Mr. Biden turned in classified documents to the National Archives and the Department of Justice, consented to the search of multiple locations including his homes, sat for a voluntary interview, and in other ways cooperated with the investigation.”
In a statement following the release of Hur’s report, Biden said that he prioritised working with the special counsel to clear his name.
“I cooperated completely, threw up no roadblocks, and sought no delays,” he said. “In fact, I was so determined to give the Special Counsel what they needed that I went forward with five hours of in-person interviews over two days on October 8th and 9th of last year, even though Israel had just been attacked on October 7th and I was in the middle of handling an international crisis.”
Trump responded with outrage in a statement on Thursday, claiming there’s a two-tiered system of justice and that Biden’s actions were more egregious than his own.
“The Biden Documents Case is 100 times different and more severe than mine. I did nothing wrong, and I cooperated far more,” Trump said, closing out his written statement with one of his most repeated phrases: “ELECTION INTERFERENCE.”
Biden is expected to face off against Trump in the November presidential election as Trump has dominated against Republican primary challengers.