President Biden says he never meant to keep classified documents. Hur stands by report on president’s memory

By ZEKE MILLER, COLLEEN LONG and FARNOUSH AMIRI | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Over five hours of interviews, President Joe Biden repeatedly told a special counsel that he never meant to retain classified information after he left the vice presidency, but he was at times fuzzy about dates and said he was unfamiliar with the paper trail for some of the sensitive documents he handled.

The Associated Press obtained a transcript of the Biden interviews, which were being turned over to Congress by the Justice Department on Tuesday just hours before the special counsel, Robert Hur, was going before the House Judiciary Committee to face questions about his investigation of the Democratic president.

Hur, in his report, concluded that Biden should not face criminal charges over his mishandling of documents but also impugned the president’s age and competence. The special counsel, for his part, stood by his assessment of the president’s memory as “accurate and fair,” in prepared testimony to be delivered to Congress.

In prepared remarks, Hur said: “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.”

While Biden fumbled some details in his interview, the full transcript could raise questions about Hur’s depiction of the 81-year-old president as having “significant limitations” on his memory. It paints a more textured picture of his discussions with prosecutors, filling out some of the gaps left by Hur’s accounting of the exchanges.

At the same time, it makes plain that the Republican lawyer never asked Biden about the timing of his son’s death, contradicting the president’s indignant public objections to that supposed line of questioning.

READ: The transcript of Biden interview with special counsel Robert Hur

Both the hearing and the transcript were meant to clear up lingering questions about Hur’s report on the discovery of some classified records at Biden’s home and former Washington private office. But there was no guarantee they would alter preconceived notions about the president or the Trump appointee who investigated him, particularly in a hard-fought election year.

On Capitol Hill, Hur appeared set to be the rare witness likely to be vilified all around — by Republicans angry over his decision not to charge the president, and by Democrats for his unflattering commentary about Biden.

Republicans were likely to dig further into Hur’s assessment of the president’s age and memory — a major attack line as they seek to unseat Biden come November. Democrats will try to paint Hur, whom Donald Trump appointed a U.S. attorney, as a political partisan out to help his party win a presidential election.

Hur’s report cited evidence that Biden willfully held on to highly classified information and shared it with a ghostwriter, based on audio of the conversations between the two men in which Biden said he had just come across some classified documents at his home.

In the interviews, Biden said he did not recall the exchange, or that he had actually discovered any documents. He said if he had discussed anything questionable with the ghostwriter, it was in referring to a 20-page sensitive memo he had written to then-President Barack Obama in 2009 arguing against surging troops in Afghanistan that he wanted to ensure didn’t make it into publication.

Hur devoted much of his report to explaining why he did not believe the evidence against Biden met the standard for criminal charges, partly based on the hours of interviews with the president.

In his prepared remarks, Hur said he was aware of the need to explain in great detail why he’d decided not to charge the president. Such explanations are common but usually kept confidential; and so he didn’t hold back, particularly in this case.

“The need to show my work was especially strong here,” he said. “The attorney general had appointed me to investigate the actions of the attorney general’s boss, the sitting president of the United States. I knew that for my decision to be credible, I could not simply announce that I recommended no criminal charges and leave it at that. I needed to explain why.”