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Seven biggest takeaways from the Special Counsel’s testimony on Biden's handling of classified docs

Robert Hur bolstered the conclusions of his report, principally that Joe Biden "willfully" retained classified documents, though he recommended no charges in part because of the president's poor memory.

Published: March 12, 2024 11:17pm

Special Counsel Robert Hur, who investigated President Joe Biden’s alleged mishandling of classified documents, testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday and reiterated the main conclusions from his report: Biden “willfully” retained classified documents and also shared classified information with someone not cleared to see it.

Hur ultimately recommended against bringing charges because he believed, despite the evidence his team had gathered, that he could not prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt Biden had acted unlawfully.

One factor influencing Hur’s recommendation was Biden’s poor memory during hours of interviews and in records of the president’s conversations with the ghostwriter of his memoir.

It "would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him — by then a former president well into his eighties — of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness," the prosecutor wrote in his report.

"Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory," he added.

In his testimony, Hur reaffirmed the primary conclusion from his report that reportedly frustrated the White House. Spokesman for the White House Counsel's office Ian Sams wrote a letter to the White House Correspondents' Association criticizing the media coverage of the special counsel's conclusions, insisting Hur determined there was no “willful retention.”

“To report that the special counsel ‘found' or ‘concluded’ willful retention by the president is refuted by the conclusion that charges were not warranted,” Sams wrote in the letter that rankled some media outlets as “inappropriate pressure.”

“The special counsel determined that the evidence refuted willful retention or disclosure,” he asserted.

However, the special counsel’s testimony largely rebutted the spokesman’s claims and shed more light on the evidence against Biden and how the Justice Department handled the investigation.

Five biggest takeaways from Hur’s testimony:

1. President Biden “willfully” retained classified documents

In his opening statement, Hur confirmed Biden “willfully” retained classified documents, including handwritten notebooks and several documents in his possession from his time as vice president.

"We obtained evidence President Biden willfully retained classified information," Hur said in his opening statement, echoing the conclusions contained in his report. The evidence includes recorded conversations with his ghostwriter where he shared classified information.

In those recorded conversations, Biden reportedly told the ghostwriter he had “just found all the classified stuff downstairs” and said “Some of this may be classified, so be careful,” as he requested the author to read from his notes.

“The willfulness standard can be boiled down… that you know what you are doing is against the law when you do it,” Hur testified in response to a question from GOP Rep. Andy Biggs.

Biggs believes the recordings showing Biden was aware he had classified documents in his possession and shared at least some classified information with his ghostwriter indicate Biden had “guilty knowledge” of what he was doing.

“My immediately response was: so he knows he’s got classified docs, he’s looking at this and can’t read, he’s giving this to someone he knows has no security clearance and says ‘hey, read this, but be careful, it might be classified,’” Biggs said of the recordings.

“I’m suggesting to you—and this is where you and I have a difference of opinion,” Biggs said.

“When you say something like look this may be classified, be careful… that indicates guilty knowledge,” Biggs asserted.

Later, Rep. Kevin Kiley got Hur to concede some jurors might have voted to convict Biden.

"So a reasonable juror could have voted to convict based on the facts?" Kiley asked.

"Correct," Hur said.

 2. Hur indicated Biden was lying when he claimed in news conference he did not share classified information

Under questioning from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Hur told the committee one claim by Biden during a press conference after the report was released was “inconsistent” with what he found in his investigation.

"I did not share classified information...I did not share it... I guarantee I did not,” President Biden said at that press conference.

"That's not true, is it Mr. Hur?” Gaetz asked.

"That is inconsistent with the findings based on the evidence in my report," Hur replied. 

"Yeah so it's a lie, just what regular people might say," Gaetz said. Hur did not give a verbal response, but appeared to laugh.

3. President Biden’s motives for retaining classified documents were explored, including $8 million in book proceeds

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, questioned Hur about indications in his report that Biden had two motives for “willfully” retaining documents: an $8 million book deal and his legacy.

After five decades in the Senate, a stint on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and eight years as vice president Biden should have been well prepped for handling classified information, Jordan said. Yet, Biden retained classified documents – many stored in his home's garage with no significant security protocols – when he left office despite demonstrating his knowledge of the procedures surrounding secret information to special counsel Hur, Jordan added.

Jordan argued that Hur’s report explains Biden’s motivations clearly.

“[Biden] had strong motivations to do so and to ignore the rules for properly handling the classified information in his notebooks,” Hur concluded in his report.

Hur concluded Joe Biden used his classified notebooks “liberally” during hours of meetings with his ghostwriter who was tasked with compiling his memoir. Biden received an $8 million advance for this book deal, according to the report.

In addition to his financial interests, Hur reported that Biden perceived himself as an “historic figure” and used the materials “to write memoirs published in 2007 and 2017, to document his legacy, and to cite as evidence that he was a man of presidential timber,” in other words, to secure his legacy. “This record was valuable to him for many reasons, including to help defend his record and buttress his legacy as a world leader,” Hur wrote in his report, referring to the notebooks.

“Pride and money is why he knowingly violated the rules,” Chairman Jordan said. “Oldest motives in the book,” he added.

“Do you agree with that Mr. Hur? You wrote it in your report,” Jordan asked.

“That language does appear in the report and we did identify evidence supporting those assessments,” Hur answered.

4. Hur insisted that his report did not “exonerate” Biden

In an exchange with Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., Hur insisted that his report did not "exonerate" Biden from wrongdoing in his handling of classified documents.

"So this lengthy, expensive and independent investigation resulted in a complete exoneration of President Joe Biden,” Rep. Jayapal said to Hur. “For every document you discussed in your report, you found insufficient evidence that the president violated any laws about possession or retention of classified materials. The primary law that you analyze for potential prosecution was part of the Espionage Act, 18 U.S.C. 793, which criminalizes willful retention or disclosure of national defense information. Is that correct?"

“Congresswoman, that is one statute that we analyzed. I need to go back and make sure that I take note of the word that you used. Exoneration. That is not a word that used in the report and that is not part of my task as a prosecutor. The judgement that I received and that I ultimately reached was relating to whether sufficient evidence existed such that the likely outcome would be a conviction,” Hur answered. 

5. The Intelligence Community is completing a damage assessment on Biden’s handling of classified documents

Under questioning from Rep. Laurel Lee, R-Fla., Hur told the committee he is aware of a damage assessment being conducted by the department in coordination with the Intelligence Community about the president’s handling of classified documents.

“Since the release of the report… has the Justice Department started to analyze a damage assessment of what may have been disclosed by these documents being mishandled and any ongoing national security risks from the inappropriate storage and retention of the documents?” Lee asked.

“My understanding is that such a damage assessment is underway in coordination and cooperation with the members of the intelligence community,” Hur replied.

“And do you, today, have any information about the status of that investigation or how long it might take to conclude?” she asked.

“I do not, Congresswoman,” Hur concluded.

6. Prosecutors believed there was an effort to destroy evidence

During examination from Jordan, Hur reaffirmed a conclusion in his report that the ghost writer with whom Biden shared classified information later tried to delete evidence from his computer.

"What did the ghostwriter do to the audio recording of his conversations with Biden after a special counsel was named?" Jordan asked.

"He slid those files into his recycle bin on his computer," Hur responded.

"Tried to destroy the evidence didn't he?" the lawmaker pressed.

"Correct," the prosecutor answered.

7.) Biden displayed a hazy memory, confusion during his two-day interview with Hur's team

During his two-day interview with prosecutors, the president displayed significant lapses in memory and some confusion.

He used answers like "I don't know" or "I don't remember" about 100 times over the several hours, the transcripts show. 

In one line of questioning about Biden’s time after he left the vice presidency in early 2017, he struggled to remember the year of important events, like Donald Trump’s election in 2016 and the death of his son, Beau Biden, from brain cancer in 2015.

“And so what was happening, though – what month did Beau die? Oh God, May 30," Biden said, according to the transcript reviewed by Just the News.

“2015,” a White House Counsel’s office attorney interjected.

“Was it 2015 he had died?” Biden asked.

The transcript contradicts statements President Biden made after Hur’s report was released last month. The president was publicly indignant and criticized Hur for allegedly raising the topic.

“How in the hell dare he raise that,” Biden said to reporters, speaking about Hur. “Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself it wasn’t any of their damn business.” Yet, the transcript shows it was Biden who first mentioned his son's death.

After confirming the date of his son’s death with the lawyers, Biden still appeared to be confused about the timeline of his post-vice presidential private life.

Biden said: “And what's happened in the meantime is that Trump gets elected in November of 2017?"

Two individuals corrected him, saying it was in “2016,” according to the transcript.

“2016. Alright, so – why do I have 2017 here?" Biden asked.

 

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