A report on President Biden's handling of classified documents is fueling a political attack that he is not mentally fit for office. Here are the takeaways from the special counsel's findings.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Biden scored a legal victory and a political setback this week. A Justice Department special counsel reasoned that even if Biden may have mishandled classified materials after leaving the vice presidency, he should not be charged. The report also took aim at a fundamental vulnerability of Biden: his age. There's been a lot of fallout in the last day since the report was released, and NPR's Domenico Montanaro is here to update us. Hi.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: How bad is this for Biden?
MONTANARO: Well, I mean, it's not good for him because it fits into a larger narrative about his age and his fitness for office. You know, polls show that age is a bigger issue for Biden than for former President Trump, even though they're pretty close in age. An NBC poll released this week found that three-quarters of Americans are concerned about Biden's age and ability to do the job, compared to just half who say the same about Trump, despite, again, the fact that Trump also makes these kinds of missteps. . And he's only four years younger. You know, he said that – he confused Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi. He repeatedly confused President Obama and President Biden. He confused Sioux City, Iowa, with Sioux Falls, SD
But as Biden's age is a larger factor in people's minds, it plays a role in the larger narrative of whether he is ready for the job. But fundamentally, I have to say that I don't think it changes much in this election. I think it's still the framework that weighs here – the concerns about Biden's age or this very strong dislike of Trump, which is very real, that we saw and helped Biden get elected in the first place.
SHAPIRO: Well, what did the White House say in the last day to try to help counter this?
MONTANARO: Well, Biden's lawyers are calling the memory loss insinuations, quote, “gratuitous and inappropriate.” They say those descriptions have no place in a report that ultimately cleared Biden of the charges. You know, they also emphasized that Biden was fully cooperating with the investigation. Here today is White House Press Secretary Ian Sams.
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IAN SAMS: I think the audience is intelligent and they can see what's going on. I think they see a president who has fully cooperated. I think they see a president who did the right thing and made sure everything came back. And I think they see that it was a long investigation that ended with no records.
MONTANARO: Yeah. And in addition to Sams, Vice President Kamala Harris is here today. She is also a former prosecutor. She was asked about it at the White House and also blasted the language used in the report.
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VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: The way the president's behavior has been characterized in this report could not be more factually wrong and clearly politically motivated, gratuitous.
MONTANARO: So she defended the Biden she sees behind the scenes. But much of it was a clean-up after Biden himself held a press conference last night, and he ended up putting his message into practice, playing on what he was trying to refute – these questions about his age – when he mixed in Mexico and Egypt, for example. You know, it detracted from the message he was trying to get across – his anger at this prosecutor, mentioning his son Beau and trying to get to the bottom of what's going on with Israel and Gaza and how he thinks the response of Israel has been, quote, “on top.”
SHAPIRO: Put that in context because, as you mentioned, Trump is almost as old as Biden, also mixed up people's names and was actually criminally charged with mishandling classified documents. So how do we compare the two situations? Why do you think this stuck with Biden so much more than Trump?
MONTANARO: I don't know if it stuck more to Biden than Trump. I mean, certainly today we're talking about that. But, as you know, half of the country certainly has, if not more, a very negative opinion of Trump and even higher than that of Biden. It's just that, you know, you have Democrats who are willing to also talk about this as a potential problem for Biden because there are also Democrats who say they think his age is a problem . However, in terms of what Trump did versus what Biden did, as even Special Counsel Robert Hur stated, after having several chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump would have done the opposite, which is different from what is happening. Biden did it. Ultimately, Trump probably wouldn't have been charged either if he had just handed things over.
SHAPIRO: NPR's Domenico Montanaro. THANKS.
MONTANARO: You’re welcome.
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