WASHINGTON — President Biden “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials,” special counsel Robert Hur found in a bombshell report released Thursday — though Hur recommended against criminal charges, in part because a jury might view Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”
Biden, 81, flouted legal restrictions on keeping sensitive documents throughout his 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president — stashing them in cardboard boxes in his garage in Wilmington, Del., and other locations, the 388-page report said, with photos showing Biden’s storage practices.
Investigators even uncovered a recording of Biden confiding in his ghostwriter Mark Zwonitzer in April 2017, three months after leaving the vice presidency, that he still had official records because “I didn’t want to turn them in” — sounding similar to former President Donald Trump, who faces 40 criminal charges and up to 450 years in prison for resisting handing over documents after leaving the White House in 2021.
Zwonitzer also told Hur’s investigators that he deleted some audio files of Biden after the special counsel investigation began — and was aware of the probe when he did so.
“I’m not going to say how much of the percentage it was of my motivation,” the writer said, according to the report.
‘Elderly man with a poor memory’
Material mishandled by Biden involved the nation’s most guarded secrets, the report said, with authorities finding “information in [recovered] notebooks [that] remains classified up to the Top Secret level and includes Sensitive Compartmented Information, including from compartments used to protect information concerning human intelligence sources.”
But, perhaps most damaging for the president, Hur — a former Maryland US attorney — suggested that jurors would not hold Biden liable for his actions on account of his perceived mental decline, even though he is seeking a second four-year term in November.
“[A]t trial, Mr. 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,” the report says.
When Biden sat for questions with Hur’s investigators Oct. 8 and Oct. 9, he presented himself as confused on many points — though the White House has regularly maintained the chief executive is mentally fit for office despite similar public errors.
Biden “did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended (‘if it was 2013 — when did I stop being Vice President?’), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began (‘in 2009, am I still Vice President?’),” the report says.
“He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died [May 2015]. And his memory appeared hazy when describing the Afghanistan debate that was once so important to him. Among other things, he mistakenly said he ‘had a real difference’ of opinion with General Karl Eikenberry, when, in fact, Eikenberry was an ally whom Mr. Biden cited approvingly in his Thanksgiving  memo to President Obama.”
Although Biden’s lapse of memory may be useful for avoiding criminal liability, it is likely to be a serious political problem, as national polls already show large majorities of voters believe he is too old, infirm or both to hold office.
“If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president,” said Alex Pfeiffer, spokesman for Make America Great Again, a pro-Trump PAC.
Joe Biden’s classified documents probe report
- Special counsel Robert Hur determined that President Biden “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials” after leaving office as vice president in 2016.
- The records kept by Biden included documents on military and foreign policy in Afghanistan as well as other national security and foreign policy issues.
- Biden kept the classified documents in part to assist with the writing of his memoirs. According to the report, Biden told a ghostwriter in a 2017 conversation that he had “just found all the classified stuff downstairs.”
- Despite the findings, Hur’s 388-page report recommended that the president not face charges.
- The special counsel noted that Biden would likely present himself to a jury as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” if he were to face trial.
Trump sees ‘two-tiered’ justice
Trump himself, who is younger than Biden by three years and seven months, fumed about what he called a double standard in the US legal system — as he prepares to stand trial over similar allegations beginning May 20 in South Florida.
“THIS HAS NOW PROVEN TO BE A TWO-TIERED SYSTEM OF JUSTICE AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL SELECTIVE PROSECUTION!” the 77-year-old wrote on Truth Social.
“The Biden Documents Case is 100 times different and more severe than mine. I did nothing wrong, and I cooperated far more. What Biden did is outrageously criminal – He had 50 years of documents, 50 times more than I had, and ‘WILLFULLY RETAINED’ them,” Trump went on.
“I was covered by the Presidential Records Act, Secret Service was always around, and GSA delivered the documents. Deranged Jack Smith should drop this Case immediately. ELECTION INTERFERENCE.”
Biden said in his own paper statement: “This was an exhaustive investigation going back more than 40 years, even into the 1970s when I was a young Senator. I cooperated completely, threw up no roadblocks, and sought no delays.”
“Over my career in public service, I have always worked to protect America’s security,” the president added. “I take these issues seriously and no one has ever questioned that.”
About an hour after the Hur report was released, Biden told House Democrats at a conference in Virginia that “there’s stark differences between this case and Donald Trump.”
Among those differences, Biden contended, were that Trump “obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence” whereas he “turned in classified documents to the National Archives.”
Biden also dismissed Hur as a “Republican counsel” and declared “this matter is now closed,” thumping his fist on a lectern.
Report alleges decades of hoarding
Hur, whose report was released by Congress after the White House declined to assert privilege on any of its contents, found that classified records hoarded by Biden included documents concerning military and foreign policy in Afghanistan, as well as notebooks with handwritten entries about national security and foreign policy issues “implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods.”
According to the special counsel, Biden kept the documents to assist in the writing of two memoirs published in 2007 and 2017, as well as “to document his legacy, and to cite as evidence that he was a man of presidential timber.”
“In a recorded conversation with his ghostwriter in February 2017, about a month after he left office, Mr. Biden said … that he had ‘just found all the classified stuff downstairs,’” the report noted.
“At least three times Mr. Biden read from classified entries aloud to his ghostwriter nearly verbatim.”
“In Mr. Biden’s garage, agents found several documents with classification markings dating from Mr. Biden’s time in the Senate in the 1970s and 1980s,” the report says.
The practice of retaining documents continued as Biden gained political power, becoming chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the early 2000s before being elected vice president in 2008, according to the special counsel.
Sensitive records from Biden’s vice presidency and Senate tenure were stored without proper safeguards at his residence in Wilmington and at his pre-presidency office in DC provided by the University of Pennsylvania.
Hur’s investigation into the president was notably quiet, with few leaks to the media — unlike the headline-grabbing probe of Trump on similar grounds.
When taking note of evidence that “Biden knew he could not keep classified handwritten notes at home after leaving office,” Hur highlighted the president’s reaction to the classified document ordeal engulfing his predecessor.
“Asked about reports that former President Trump had kept classified documents at his own home, Mr. Biden wondered how ‘anyone could be that irresponsible,’” the report noted.
Intrigue after concealment of first finds
Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur to investigate Biden’s handling of records dating to his vice presidency and Senate years on Jan. 12 last year — after sequential admissions of new discoveries by the White House.
Biden was interviewed by investigators in October — roughly a year after he chided Trump as “irresponsible” for retaining classified documents.
Biden’s lawyers said they initially found classified documents on Nov. 2, 2022, while clearing out his former office at the Penn Biden Center near Capitol Hill.
The discovery, six days before the midterm elections, was kept quiet until CBS News broke the story Jan. 9, 2023.
Additional Biden classified documents were found on Dec. 20, 2022, in his Wilmington garage, followed by a series of additional discoveries at the home, including by the FBI, which also searched Biden’s Rehoboth Beach, Del., vacation home and left with written notes.
Biden sought to downplay the controversy, telling PBS last February, “To the best of my knowledge, the kind of things they picked up are things that — from 1974, stray papers.”
“There is no there there,” Biden told reporters last January.
Biden first publicly acknowledged the discovery of classified documents at the Penn Biden Center at a Jan. 10 press conference in Mexico City.
In his initial remarks, Biden didn’t say that a second cache of classified documents had been found in his Wilmington garage.
Biden admitted on Jan. 12 that records were found next to his classic Corvette in Wilmington, but denied he was reckless with the nation’s secrets.
“My Corvette is in a locked garage, OK? So it’s not like they’re sitting out on the street,” Biden said.
The White House said at the time that searches for records were complete, but additional documents were found by Biden’s lawyers. An FBI search found six more items with classification markings.
Unlike Biden’s negotiated home searches, the FBI raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., to retrieve documents on Aug. 8, 2022 — just months before the revelation that Biden had stashed classified documents at various locations, including in his home garage, which lacked Secret Service protection for a period of time.
The ex-president allegedly hindered attempts by the National Archives to retrieve the documents, which he argued he was entitled to keep under the Presidential Records Act.
Additional reporting by Ryan King