Special counsel: No charges for Biden in classified documents probe

Joe Biden carelessly handled classified documents found at his home and former office after his vice presidency and shared government secrets with his ghostwriter, but that evidence was not strong enough to warrant charging him with crimes , according to a highly anticipated report from the special prosecutor released Thursday. .

The Justice Department's 345-page findings put an end to an investigation that had weighed on the president for more than a year. The report could prove to be a political liability, however, because it portrays President Biden, 81, as a forgetful old man who kept notebooks and documents containing classified information at home – a scathing characterization that will likely be used against him by the Republicans.

Biden, in a written statement, defended himself as someone who has always taken the protection of national security secrets seriously.

“I cooperated fully, put up no obstacles and sought no delay. In fact, I was so determined to give the special adviser what he needed that I did five hours of in-person interviews over two days,” Biden said, referring to Hamas on October 7. attack on Israel. “I just thought it was what I owed the American people to know that no charges would be filed and that the case would be closed.”

Special counsel Robert K. Hur, who interviewed the president himself at the White House, found evidence that Biden “deliberately retained and disclosed classified documents after his vice presidency while he was a private citizen,” but concluded that the evidence “does not establish the identity of Mr. Biden.” guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Hur's team said prosecuting Biden would be “unwarranted based on our consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors” outlined in the Justice Department's prosecution policies.

To win a conviction, officials would have to prove to a jury that Biden deliberately withheld the information. Investigators have been examining why Biden first told his ghostwriter that he had classified information in his possession in 2017 but did not report it to authorities.

Ultimately, the report says a jury would view Biden as a sympathetic figure and “an elderly, well-meaning man with a poor memory.” Prosecutors also suggested that it might not have seemed attractive to Biden that he was in possession of classified documents so soon after his term as vice president ended.

Hur's report said it would be “difficult to convince a jury that it should convict him – then a former president over 80 years old – of a serious crime that requires a mental state of obstinacy.”

Read the Special Advisor's full report on President Biden's possession of classified documents

Richard Sauber, Biden's lawyer in the documents case, said he was glad the investigation ended without charges, noting in a statement that the president “cooperated fully from day one.” Sauber said every administration ends with packaging errors involving documents, and Biden's was no different.

Sauber, however, criticized Hur for “a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments” in the report. “Nevertheless, the most important decision made by the special prosecutor – that no charges are warranted – is firmly based on the facts and evidence,” he said.

The special counsel team conducted 173 interviews with 147 witnesses, including Biden, and collected millions of documents to write the report. They said Biden cooperated with investigators and consented to multiple searches of his properties.

The Justice Department has long had a policy that sitting presidents cannot be accused, indicted or prosecuted for an alleged crime. But officials said in the report that they still would have decided not to file charges even if current Justice Department guidelines permitted indicting a sitting president.

Attorney General Merrick General appointed Hur as special counsel in January 2023 after Biden aides said they discovered the documents during a search of his home and office.

At the time, a separate investigation was underway into former President Donald Trump's alleged mishandling of classified materials — an investigation that led to 40 federal charges against Trump, including willful withholding of defense secrets national and obstruction of justice.

Hur's report makes no secret of the fact that Trump is being prosecuted for his documents while Biden is not; the special counsel argues that the different facts of the two cases lead to different charging decisions.

“With one exception, there is no record of any prosecution by the Justice Department against a former president or vice president for mishandling classified documents from his own administration. The exception is former President Trump,” the report said.

“Unlike the evidence implicating Mr. Biden, the allegations in Mr. Trump’s indictment, if proven, would present serious aggravating circumstances,” the report continued. The most notable of them: “After having several chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite.”

Garland said the special adviser appointments were necessary because Trump and Biden had indicated they would run for president in 2024.

Hur's report portrays Biden as a well-meaning, but sometimes hapless and forgetful, man who had access to classified documents throughout his decades-long government career. Biden kept notebooks from his time as vice president that contained classified information, according to the report, and used those notebooks to write his 2017 memoir with a ghostwriter. The special prosecutor noted that the published books ultimately contained no classified information.

Prosecutors concluded Biden kept some of the material because he believed he was an important figure in U.S. history and wanted that history to reflect his opposition to sending more troops to Afghanistan in 2009. Biden, according to the report, “always believed that history would prove him right”.

Some of the classified documents were classified as “top secret/sensitive compartmentalized information,” a category reserved for particularly sensitive documents. They included documents related to Afghanistan, including a 2009 memo he sent to then-President Obama in “a last-ditch effort to persuade him not to send additional troops to Afghanistan,” the report said. .

The report notes that in a recorded conversation with his ghostwriter in early 2017, shortly after his term as vice president ended, Biden said he “just found all the classified information down there.” At the time, Biden was living in a rented house in Virginia.

“Mr. Biden's memory was significantly limited, both during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017 and during his interview with our office in 2023,” the report said.

This is a developing story. It will be updated. John Wagner contributed to this report.

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