What you need to know about the Biden classified documents report : NPR

President Biden speaks at the White House February 8, 2024 in Washington, DC, where he sought to emphasize his cooperation with the investigation and defended his fitness for office.

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Nathan Howard/Getty Images

President Biden speaks at the White House February 8, 2024 in Washington, DC, where he sought to emphasize his cooperation with the investigation and defended his fitness for office.

Nathan Howard/Getty Images

A yearlong investigation into President Biden's handling of classified documents will result in no charges. Special counsel Robert Hur concluded in his report that the evidence discovered by investigators does not constitute “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that Biden deliberately retained and disclosed classified documents.

Despite the president's legal victory, the report was politically damaging for Biden. It details mishandling of classified documents and specifically highlights gaps in Biden's memory when discussing the information during his interview with the special counsel — fueling existing political concern about his age and mental acuity.

Biden sought to challenge unfavorable parts of the report during a fiery news conference Thursday evening, emphasizing his cooperation with the investigation and defending his fitness for office.

Here's what you need to know about the report and the fallout that began immediately after its release.

What the report includes

The report covers the documents that were discovered, what is known about how they were handled – dating back to Biden's time as vice president – ​​as well as the legal arguments regarding the relevance of the documents. accusations.

There are photos of the boxes containing classified documents, including a damaged box containing documents on Afghanistan that was found in the garage of Biden's Delaware home “near a collapsed dog cage, a dog bed, a Zappos box, an empty bucket, a broken lamp wrapped in duct tape, potting soil and synthetic firewood.

The bulk of the report focuses on two types of classified documents: documents on military and foreign policy in Afghanistan; and notebooks that Biden used throughout his presidency for a combination of personal reflections, meeting notes and other writings.

Biden notably relied on his notebooks to write his memoirs Promise me, daddy, which was published in 2017 and looks back at the year her eldest son Beau died of cancer, two years earlier.

In conversations with his ghostwriter for the book, he read these notebooks – and, on at least three occasions, shared classified documents in doing so.

In his interview for the special prosecutor's investigation, Biden was “categorical, declaring that his notebooks are 'my property' and that 'every president before me has done the exact same thing,' i.e. They preserved handwritten documents after his mandate. , even if they contain classified material.” He also discussed the diaries kept by former President Ronald Reagan after his term.

Why there are no fees

Although the special counsel's investigation found evidence that Biden knew he had documents containing classified information, the report says that ultimately the evidence does not support filing charges.

Hur said the evidence does not establish Biden's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and that it would be difficult to prove that Biden deliberately intended to break the law.

For example:

“Mr. Biden's decision to read the notes almost verbatim to [ghostwriter Mark] Zwonitzer that Mr. Biden had just identified as potentially classified cannot be justified. But the evidence does not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to share classified information. Mr. Biden told Zwonitzer he was “not sure” whether the passage from the notebook he read was classified. This is enough to create reasonable doubt as to whether Mr. Biden acted voluntarily. »

Hur describes ways a jury can side with Biden and not ultimately convict him for the missteps found by the special counsel.

The report said that in front of a jury, Biden “would likely…as he did during his interview with our office, as an elderly, friendly, well-meaning man with a poor memory.”

What was the response

Biden's lawyers directly challenged the characterization of — and multiple references to — his memory in a letter to the special counsel that is attached to the public report.

“The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace phenomenon among witnesses: a lack of recollection of years-old events,” said Richard Sauber, the president's special adviser, and Bob Bauer, Biden's personal lawyer. .

The lawyers also note that the five-hour interview with Biden began the day after the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, when Biden had numerous meetings with foreign leaders and his national security team.

During his press conference on Thursday, Biden further defended his mental acuity, saying his memory was “good.” He responded angrily to Hur's description of part of an interview in which Hur said Biden didn't seem to remember his son's death.

“How the hell dare he bring that up?” Biden said, adding that it was “none of their business” and choking up with emotion. “I don’t need anyone to remind me when he died.”

Republicans, including former President Donald Trump, who will likely face Biden in the November general election, immediately seized on that line as a reason why Biden should no longer be president.

Trump also lambasted the lack of charges, calling it evidence of a “two-tiered justice system.” Trump faces more than three dozen federal criminal charges related to his own handling of classified information after boxes containing classified documents were discovered in unsecured locations at his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida.

Trump and his associates have pleaded not guilty in the federal case, prosecuted by special prosecutor Jack Smith.

Unlike Biden's case, where the president consented to searches of his property and willingly spoke with investigators, Trump is accused of actively trying to prevent officials from recovering classified documents.

What happens next

Hur's investigation is closed, but the political fallout has begun. Biden will face renewed attention on his age and convince voters that he should serve another term as president.

In his press conference that began with his defense of critical parts of the report, Biden, in responding to a question about ongoing hostage negotiations with Israel and Hamas, incorrectly said that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El -Sisi was the “president of Mexico”. “

In recent days, in off-camera events, Biden has mixed up the names of foreign leaders three times, calling French President Emmanuel Macron “Mitterrand” and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel “Helmut Kohl.” François Mitterrand and Kohl were former leaders of France and Germany, respectively.

Trump, meanwhile, is awaiting trial in several cases, including the Mar-a-Lago documents affair. And hours before the Hur report was released Thursday, the Supreme Court was hearing arguments on whether Trump could be disqualified from voting in Colorado for his role in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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