Robert Kyoung Hur, special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate whether President Joe Biden mishandled classified documents from his time as vice president, finally released a report yesterday. After months of intensive investigation, Hur reached the same conclusion that most Americans had initially: the President may have been rather careless in his handling of classified documents, but there was no indictable offense.
Hur realized he couldn’t do legal harm to Joe Biden, but he had another weapon at his disposal, he could do serious political damage, especially effective in an election year when the race between the presumed candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, is shaping up to be one of the tightest in history.
So, Hur went for the jugular, he inserted what all experts agree is not traditional in such reports, gratuitous commentary on Biden’s weakest point, the major campaign liability ahead of the 2024 election: his age and his memory, saying it was “significantly limited” and that he had “limited precision and recall.”
As was to be expected, Biden’s critics seized on the special counsel report as evidence that he is not fit for office.
Soon after the report was released, the White House announced a press conference, giving just a 20- minute advance notice. Pundits and experts agree, this was a risky move for Biden, but one which could not be avoided. But what would he say? What would his demeanor be like?
The Joe Biden that the nation saw came out like a tiger bounding out of its cage. He was feisty, angry at times, emotional at others, and he rebutted the main points with a surprising directness.
He started out in a conciliatory tone. “I was pleased to see he reached the firm conclusion that no charges should be brought against me in this case,” the president said. “This was an exhaustive investigation.” He stressed that the report concluded that charges were not merited, even citing specific page numbers to bolster his case.
But when he came to the condescending accusation that Hur had made in the report about his age and motives, Biden minced no words. Admitting, “I’m well-meaning, and I’m an elderly man,” he followed it up with a rejection that he has a poor memory, “and I know what the hell I’m doing. ”
The most striking moment of the speech came when the president, particularly emotional while recalling a line from Hur’s report that suggested he did not recall the year in which his son Beau had died, said, “How in the hell dare he raise that?”
Biden said he remembers his son’s death every day. “I don’t need anyone to remind me of when he passed away.” Pausing for a few seconds to control his emotions, he pointed to his wrist and said that the rosary he wears is a constant reminder of his pain. According to two people who were present, in private his words were even more harsh.
“How the f— could I forget the day my son died? Of course I remember everything.”
In the second part of the brief speech, President Biden drew comparisons to a separate investigation into former president Donald Trump’s own handling of classified documents, and the differences between them — notably that Trump allegedly sought to keep the documents even when authorities asked for them back and that he, unlike Biden, now faces criminal charges.
“I was especially pleased to see special counsel make clear the stark distinction and difference between this case and Mr. Trump’s case,” Biden said.
The facts that he couldn’t explain away or justify, he owned: “I take responsibility for not having seen exactly what my staff was doing,” Biden said.
The wider context around this investigation is worthy of note. In the dark and chaotic days of Trump’s administration, the then-president was the subject of a Special Investigation by Robert Mueller for alleged collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, followed by another on his handling of classified documents. In the current democratic administration, the Republicans started a Special Investigation into Biden on the same charge. Trump was impeached by Democrats, and now Republicans did their best fruitlessly, to impeach Biden. In Trump’s time in the White House there was constant talk about invoking the 25th amendment because according to his critics, he was not fit to be the president. Today, the same charge is being brought by the opposition against Biden.
America is in the throes of revenge politics.
The fallout from last evening’s press conference is still happening. But one thing that the talking heads agree on is that the last-minute remarks that Biden made on his handling of the Hamas-Israel war surely will help him. As of February 2, only 30% approved of it while a full 50% say that Israel has “gone too far” in its disproportionate retaliation against Hamas and the destruction that it has brought to Gaza and its people.
In synch with the majority, Biden clearly said that Israel’s operation to go after Hamas had been “over the top.” At the same time, he spoke sincerely about the suffering in Gaza, insisting more must be done to stem the humanitarian crisis there. These are words that a majority of Americans—especially young people—have been waiting to hear and he grasped the opportunity to say them.