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Special counsel defends Biden classified materials investigation

At House hearing, members highlight different parts of report on president

Special counsel Robert K. Hur watches a video of former President Donald Trump during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday about his report on President Joe Biden’s retention of classified materials as a private citizen.
Special counsel Robert K. Hur watches a video of former President Donald Trump during a House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday about his report on President Joe Biden’s retention of classified materials as a private citizen. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

House Judiciary Committee members used a hearing Tuesday over a special counsel report on President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents to criticize the other party’s likely presidential nominee.

Former special counsel Robert K. Hur appeared before the committee and overall stuck to the findings of his February report, which found Biden retained and disclosed classified materials after serving as vice president but concluded he should not be criminally charged.

But during more than three hours of questioning, Republicans used the case to raise grievances with the Justice Department’s ongoing prosecution of former President Donald Trump in Florida federal court related to handling of classified documents.

Republicans pointed to report findings about the ways Biden retained classified material after his vice presidency and shared some classified information with a ghostwriter.

House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said Biden violated the rules because of pride and money for a book advance.

“Joe Biden had 8 million reasons to break the rules. Took classified information and shared it with the guy who was writing the book,” Jordan said. “He knew the rules, but he broke them for $8 million in a book advance.”

Democrats pointed to how the report contrasted the president’s cooperation with investigators to the descriptions of Trump’s actions as described in an indictment in Florida.

In that pending case, Trump was indicted on more than three dozen federal charges related to his retention of classified documents after his presidency, including false statements, concealing government records and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Democrats emphasized Biden’s cooperation with the investigation, including that he turned in classified materials, allowed authorities to search his home and sat for a voluntary interview. The interview, they noted, also took place while Biden was managing the crisis related to the Hamas attack in Israel.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, highlighted part of the report that said Trump is alleged to have refused to return classified documents and is accused of obstructing justice “by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it.”

Nadler said Trump was charged because the former president “was fundamentally incapable of taking advantage of even one of the many, many chances he was given to avoid those charges.”

In the aftermath of the report, Democrats had slammed Hur for his conclusions about Biden’s mental acuity. Hur wrote that 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.”

Some Democrats criticized him Tuesday for those conclusions. Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., told Hur he did “disparage the president” and accused Hur of knowing how the findings would be used by GOP lawmakers and Trump.

“You cannot tell me you’re so naive as to think your words would not have created a political firestorm,” Schiff said.

Hur worked in the Justice Department during the Trump administration and was appointed last year by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to investigate Biden’s handling of classified materials.

During his opening statements, Hur said it was his job to determine whether Biden retained or disclosed national defense information “willfully,” something he could not do without assessing the president’s state of mind.

Hur argued he had to consider how a jury would likely perceive Biden’s mental state and memory in a potential criminal trial, and he had to include them in the report because the issues were key to his ultimate decision.

“My assessment in the report about the relevance of the president’s memory was necessary and accurate and fair,” Hur said. “Most importantly, what I wrote is what I believe the evidence shows, and what I expect jurors would perceive and believe.”

“I did not sanitize my explanation. Nor did I disparage the president unfairly. I explained to the attorney general my decision and the reasons for it. That’s what I was required to do,” Hur said.

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