Updated Mar 12, 2024 - Politics & Policy

Hur v. House: Special counsel behind Biden report faces bipartisan grilling

 Former special counsel Robert K. Hur prepares to testify to the House Judiciary Committee on March 12, 2024 in Washington, DC

Former special counsel Robert K. Hur prepares to testify to the House Judiciary Committee on March 12 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Robert Hur, the former special counsel who oversaw the probe on President Biden's handling of classified documents, on Tuesday said it was "necessary" for his report to include details on the president's sketchy memory.

Why it matters: The hearing on Hur's report quickly became a partisan back and forth over the differences between how Biden and former President Trump handled classified documents — and over their mental faculties.

  • Republicans, questioning why Biden wasn't charged while Trump was charged in his classified documents case, portrayed Biden, 81, both as a forgetful old man and as a politician benefitting from being a Washington insider.
  • Democrats, meanwhile, countered with a video montage of Trump, 77, making a series of memory and slurred-speech gaffes as they vehemently rejected the report's portrayal of Biden's mental acuity.
  • Democrats also focused on key elements of the federal case against Trump in Florida — namely that he's accused of misleading investigators and hiding documents — while Biden cooperated immediately.

Zoom in: Defending his report, Hur said Biden's poor memory was a factor in his decision not to prosecute the president, and rejected Democrats' suggestion that detailing Biden's trouble recalling when his son Beau died and when his term as vice president concluded was gratuitous.

  • "I had to consider the president's memory and overall mental state and how a jury likely would perceive his memory and mental state in a criminal trial," Hur said.
  • "Because these issues were important to my ultimate decision, I had to include a discussion of them in my report."

Hur did, however, reject that the report concluded that Biden is "senile."

  • "That conclusion does not appear in my report," Hur said.

That didn't satisfy Democrats, who repeatedly slammed the special counsel's descriptions of Biden's memory — and questioned whether Hur, a registered Republican, had political motivations.

  • "You were not born yesterday, you understood exactly what you were doing. It was a choice," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said.
  • Hur shot back: "What you are suggesting is that I shape, sanitize, omit portions of my reasoning and explanation to the attorney general for political reasons?"
  • "No I suggest you not shape your report for political reasons," Schiff replied.

During a tense exchange, Hur rejected characterizations from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) that he had exonerated Biden in his report, saying that that is not part of his task as a prosecutor.

  • "I did not exonerate him, that word does not appear in my report," Hur interjected.

What they're saying: Ian Sams, spokesperson for the White House Counsel's Office, pushed back on Hur's claims that he did not exonerate Biden, writing on the social media platform X: "In America, you're innocent until proven guilty."

  • "The ultimate conclusion here was that charges are NOT warranted and the case is CLOSED. In other words, the President was cleared."

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, argued during his opening remarks that Biden should have been prosecuted over his handling of classified documents, as Trump was, despite there being significant differences in the two cases.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) highlighted the differences between the two cases during his opening remarks, saying that Biden "did not hide boxes of documents under his bed or in a bathtub."

The other side: Trump posted on Truth Social on Tuesday with falsehoods about the differences between his case and Biden's. Trump is facing 40 criminal counts related to classified documents.

  • He cast himself as a victim of politically motivated prosecutors, which is a common message of his presidential campaign — and was echoed Tuesday by Republican lawmakers.

Catch up quick: Hur, a former U.S. attorney nominated by former President Trump, was appointed in January 2023 to investigate Biden after Obama-era classified documents were discovered in a private office and at Biden's garage at his home in Delaware.

  • Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur to oversee the probe.

Zoom out: Meanwhile, Biden is plowing through a packed schedule of events this week, offering an implicit contrast to Hur's portrayal of him in his report as an "elderly man with a poor memory."

Go deeper: How Biden and Trump's classified doc discoveries have differed

Editor's note: This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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