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Biden classified files hearing turns into partisan battle

March 12, 2024

Robert Hur, who was investigating Biden's alleged mishandling of classified documents, defended his judgement of the president's mental acuity before US lawmakers. He sparked ire from both Republicans and Democrats.

Democratic President Joe Biden (left) and Republican Donald Trump (right) are highly likely to face off again in the US 2024 presidential election
Biden and Trump have both faced investigation for handling of classified documentsImage: ABACA/IMAGO;AP Photo/picture alliance

Former Special Counsel for the US Justice Department Robert Hur testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, defending assessments he made in a report on President Joe Biden's alleged mishandling of classified documents

In the 345-page report released in February, Hur recommended no criminal charges against Biden but questioned Biden's age and mental capacity. 

The report described Biden as "a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory," but did not recommend criminal charges. 

"What I wrote is what I believe the evidence shows, and what I expect jurors would perceive and believe," Hur said. 

"I did not sanitize my explanation. Nor did I disparage the president unfairly," he added. 

"My task was to determine whether the president retained or disclosed national defense information 'willfully' meaning, knowingly and with the intent to do something the law forbids," the special counsel said. 

"For that reason, I had to consider the president's memory and overall mental state," he added. 

Democrats, Republicans lambast Robert Hur

Democrats have said the report questioning Biden's age and mental state is politically damaging for the president as he gears up to be the presumptive nominee in the upcoming election

During the hearing, Democrats said Hur's report undermined Biden's authority, and accused the forrmer special counsel of doing the Republicans' bidding by questioning the president's aptitude. 

Robert Hur speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington
In February 2024, Robert Hur finalized an investigation that took over a year into Biden's retention of sensitive government documents.Image: Alex Brandon/AP/picture alliance

Republicans said Hur's decision not to charge Biden was hypocritical, considering their presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, is facing trial for retaining and refusing to return classified documents. 

The former US president has been charged with willfully retaining classified documents, and is awaiting trial this summer.

"Donald Trump's being prosecuted for exactly the same act that you documented Joe Biden committed," said Republican Congressman Tom McClintock, alleging a "glaring double standard."

Trump, meanwhile, had claimed that the Justice Department "gave Biden, and virtually every other person and President, a free pass."

Hur had said that "politics played no part whatsoever in my investigative steps, my decisions and the words that in I put in my report."  

How Biden, Trump classified documents cases differ

However, major differences remain between Biden and Trump's cases. 

Biden's team handed over the documents immediately, and the president complied by being interviewed and agreeing to have his residences searched. Biden told the prosecutors that he had no idea how the documents ended up in his home and the office in Washington, and had he be aware, he would have returned them. 

The top secret documents were related to Afghanistan and included notebook entries about national security and foreign policy matters.

The special counsel criticized Biden over sharing material from the notebooks with a ghostwriter for his memoir. However, Hur added that a factor in not recommending charges was Biden's willingness to cooperate. 

Trump had refused to hand over classified documents after the National Archives requested them multiple times. FBI agents had to search his home and remove the boxes. He is now facing 40 felony charges over classified documents. 

Trump vs. Biden: A race that poses worldwide risks?

as/wmr (AP, AFP)