Mar 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Biden had repeated mental lapses during special counsel interview: transcript

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

US President Joe Biden speaks about the Special Counsel report in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 8, 2024. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

In his five-hour interview with special counsel Robert Hur, President Biden repeatedly mixed up dates, countries and the timeline of significant events, including the years his son Beau died and Donald Trump was elected, according to a transcript of the interview reviewed by Axios.

Why it matters: The transcript supports Hur's account that Biden had multiple mental lapses, despite recent pushback from the president and the White House.

Zoom in: Over the course of the two-day interview, which took place in the immediate aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, Biden repeatedly asked for help remembering certain important dates — and his lawyers frequently stepped in.

  • "When did I announce for President [in 2019]?," he asked.
  • "If it was 2013 — when did I stop being vice president?"
  • "In 2009, am I still vice president?"
  • "Trump gets elected in November of 2017?," Biden asked, before someone noted it was November 2016.

Twice on the same day, Biden struggled to find the words for "fax machine."

  • "You see where there's a printer and there's a–what do they call it, the machine that–?" he asked until White House counsel Ed Siskel offered up "fax machine" in both instances.

Between the lines: After the report was released, Biden disputed Hur's statement that he didn't remember the year his son Beau Biden died.

  • "When I was asked the question, I thought to myself: It wasn't any of their damn business," Biden said in February.
  • The transcript, however, shows that Biden himself brought up his son, not Hur, and that he did have trouble recalling that Beau died in 2015 until White House lawyer Rachel Cotton helped.
  • While talking about the years 2017 and 2018, Biden said: "Remember, in this time frame, my son is — either been deployed or is dying" and adds: "And, and so what was happening, though — what month did Beau die? Oh, God, May 30 —" before Cotton offered that it was in 2015.

Zoom out: The interview took place on Oct. 8 and 9, as Biden was responding to the attack on Israel.

  • The White House has argued that Hur's report was gratuitous and motivated by partisanship given that Trump nominated him to be a U.S. attorney.
  • Biden's team has also noted that he had excellent recall in several other parts of the interview, and argued that the missteps were exaggerated and cherry-picked.
  • Hur's report contends that Biden's mental lapses were necessary to document in order to explain why he didn't charge Biden with any crimes relating to his handling of classified documents.

Go deeper: How Biden's lawyers pressured the Justice Department on Robert Hur report

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