How ghostwriter was ensnared in Biden classified documents probe

President Biden trusted the ghostwriter behind his two memoirs so much that he read aloud to him “at least three times” newspaper passages containing classified details about Obama-era deliberations, according to a prosecutor's report special released Thursday.

Last year, federal investigators sought recordings that author Mark Zwonitzer produced during his meetings with Biden around 2016, when they worked together on Biden's second memoir. But after learning of the special counsel's investigation in 2023, Zwonitzer deleted the audio files, according to the lengthy report regarding Biden's handling of classified materials after leaving the Obama White House.

Zwonitzer, who did not respond to requests for comment left by phone and email, told investigators he deleted the files as a standard practice to protect his client's privacy. Special counsel Robert K. Hur reviewed the charges against the writer, but ultimately decided there was not enough evidence to prove he intentionally attempted to obstruct justice.

Hur also did not recommend indicting Biden on Thursday, concluding that the president negligently handled classified documents but that evidence of his intent was thin.

Among Hur's findings was that Biden “deliberately retained and leaked classified documents to his ghostwriter (Zwonitzer) after his vice presidency.” Zwonitzer never held a security clearance, and Biden knew it, the report added. But Hur said the evidence “does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Biden said in a news conference Thursday that he did not share classified information while working with Zwonitzer. The two have enjoyed a close relationship for over a decade.

Biden had long been a fan of Richard Ben Cramer's popular book, “What it Takes,” which chronicled the 1988 presidential campaign. So when he asked for help with his memoir in 2006, Biden asked. turned towards Zwonitzer – Cramer’s researcher and “right-hand man”. At the end of the Obama administration, Biden tapped Zwonitzer again to write his second memoir, “Promise Me, Dad.”

Zwonitzer has become more of a friend of Biden than a political ghostwriter, Politico reported in 2021, going so far as to call him the president's “secret muse”.

The 345-page special counsel report released Thursday details how Biden saved his vice presidential notebooks and regularly shared the contents with Zwonitzer to facilitate the process of writing the memoir. According to a staffer, Biden wanted to take copies of the notes “so he wouldn't have to go there.” [the National Archives] every day to help write this book,” the report said.

Zwonitzer recalled that Biden had mentioned the need to be careful with the notes because of their possibly classified nature. During this time, Biden also “would read his notes from classified meetings to Zwonitzer almost verbatim,” the report said.

In January 2023, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur as special adviser after Biden aides said they discovered classified documents during their search of the president's home in Delaware and his office in Washington. According to the report, after learning of the special counsel's appointment, Zwonitzer deleted his audio recordings of conversations with Biden during the process. to write “Promise me, Dad” which was published in 2017.

“The recordings had significant probative value,” Hur wrote in the report.

FBI agents contacted Zwonitzer for an interview and to obtain records of his work ghostwriting two Biden memoirs, the report said. Zwonitzer turned over near-verbatim transcripts and some audio recordings, but upon reviewing the documents, investigators noticed there were some transcripts without matching audio, according to the report. Zwonitzer's lawyers told authorities that before the FBI contacted the writer, he deleted some recordings of his conversations with Biden.

The Negro then turned over his computer and hard drive and consented to a search. The FBI was able to recover deleted files from a subfolder on the external hard drive titled “audio.”

“We considered whether to charge the Negro with obstruction of justice, but believed the evidence would be insufficient to secure a conviction and therefore declined to prosecute him,” Hur wrote, adding that Zwonitzer presented “plausible and innocent” reasons for his actions. “Although the ghostwriter admitted to deleting the recordings after learning of the special prosecutor's investigation, the evidence is insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to obstruct an investigation.

Zwonitzer said that when he deleted the recordings, he did not believe they contained classified information and he did not expect the investigation to involve him, according to the report. When he deleted the files after learning of the investigation, investigators had not yet contacted him, the report said.

“I simply took the audio files subfolder from the G drive and my laptop and dragged them into the trash,” he told investigators, according to the report.

Perry Stein and Devlin Barrett contributed to this report.

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