The special counsel investigating President Joe Biden said in a lengthy report released Thursday that he would not recommend that criminal charges be filed over his handling of sensitive documents as a private citizen, despite finding evidence that he “willfully retained” and even “disclosed” classified material.
“We conclude that the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Robert Hur’s office said in the 345-page report, and that no criminal charges were “warranted” in the case.
After leaving the vice presidency in 2017, Biden held onto classified documents about military and foreign policy in Afghanistan, as well as notebooks containing handwritten entries about issues of national security and foreign policy “implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods,” according to Hur’s report.
The records were discovered in Biden’s former office in Washington and his home in Delaware in November 2022. Two months later, Hur was appointed to lead an investigation into the matter by Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Hur’s report noted that—unlike former President Donald Trump, who was criminally indicted after it was found he had stockpiled classified records of his own at Mar-a-Lago—Biden cooperated with the investigation. His team has repeatedly noted that his lawyers swiftly notified the National Archives after the discovery of the documents.
That cooperation was likely to convince jurors in any potential criminal trial that Biden had “made an innocent mistake,” Hur’s office wrote. What’s more, Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did to investigators, “as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
The report returned to the issue of Biden’s memory frequently, including in reference to what Hur said was the single most convincing piece of evidence of willful retention and disclosure: A recorded conversation from 2017 in which Biden casually mentioned “all the classified stuff” he’d just found downstairs to a ghostwriter.
But Biden appeared to be struggling with “significant” memory problems even then, Hur’s team wrote, as evidenced by the “painfully slow” pace of the conversations with the ghostwriter, with Biden “struggling to remember events and straining at times to read and relay his own notebook entries.”
Biden’s memory was “even worse” while speaking to special counsel investigators. The report noted that, while sitting for an interview, he forgot when his term as vice president began and ended. “He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died,” the report added.
“Given Mr. Biden’s limited precision and recall during his interviews with his ghostwriter and with our office, jurors may hesitate to place too much evidentiary weight” on the 2017 conversation, the report said.
What’s more, the report noted that investigators had been unable to confirm whether this “classified stuff” was the sensitive material later discovered in his garage. Hur’s team searched for additional, more conclusive evidence, but “found it wanting.”
Even given the embarrassing disclosures about the president’s memory, the White House declined to assert executive privilege over the report, allowing it to be issued just a day after Garland notified congressional leaders that it had been completed.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, White House lawyer Richard Sauber said they disagreed with “a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments in the Special Counsel's report,” but did not elaborate on the alleged inaccuracies.
Still, Sauber said, the Biden administration was “pleased” the investigation had concluded without the need for criminal charges. He dismissed the retention of classified materials as an unfortunate and common occurrence for lawmakers leaving office, but said that Biden planned to take “new, substantive action” to prevent it from happening again in the future. Sauber did not say what those steps would be.
“The simple truth is President Biden takes classified information seriously and strives to protect it,” Sauber said.
In a letter to Hur included in the report, Sauber and Biden personal attorney Bob Bauer hit back at the characterization of the president as a doddering old man.
“We do not believe that the report's treatment of President Biden's memory is accurate or appropriate,” Sauber and Bauer wrote. “The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events.”
Biden highlighted his full cooperation over the course of the 15-month investigation in a statement of his own. “I cooperated completely, threw up no roadblocks, and sought no delays,” he said, revealing that he’d spoken with investigators for five hours over two days in October, “in the middle of handling an international crisis”—Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.
“I just believe that’s what I owed the American people,” the president said, “so they could know no charges would be brought and the matter closed.”
Republican lawmakers have indicated they do not consider the matter closed, however, with congressional leaders previously signaling they have no intention of halting their own investigation into the matter. On Thursday, the House Judiciary GOP blasted the decision not to prosecute Biden a “DOUBLE STANDARD” on X.
“They didn’t want to bring charges against President Biden for the classified documents case because he’s too old and has a bad memory,” it complained in another tweet. “They’re admitting what we all see every day.”
Trump, meanwhile, is facing more than three dozen federal criminal charges after being accused of actively trying to keep the government from recovering the classified materials he hoarded at his Florida estate. He did not directly address the Hur report on Thursday, but took to Truth Social to post a Fox News clip trumpeting the finding that Biden had “willfully” retained the material.