Biden disputes special counsel findings, insists memory is fine

President Biden on Thursday night angrily disputed some of the findings in special counsel Robert Hur’s report on his investigation into the president’s handling of classified material from his time as vice president, taking particular issue with the report’s comments about his memory.

Speaking at the White House, Mr. Biden said he was “pleased” the special counsel’s report concluded no charges were warranted and pointed to several passages in the report that explicitly said the president did not “willfully retain” classified documents. 

But in a contentious exchange with a reporter after his prepared remarks, Mr. Biden pushed back on the special counsel’s assertion that he had shared classified information with his ghostwriter.

According to the report, Mr. Biden took notes, some of which were “related to classified subjects including the President’s Daily Brief and National Security Council meetings” while he served as vice president. Those notebooks were kept in his Virginia and Delaware homes, and Mr. Biden used them as reference material for his 2017 memoir “Promise Me, Dad,” sharing contents with his ghostwriter.  

“Mr. Biden shared information, including some classified information, from these notebooks with his ghostwriter,” the report said, adding the ghostwriter deleted audio recordings related to the memoir after the special counsel was appointed.

“The recordings had significant evidentiary value,” the report said. But the FBI was able to recover the deleted files from the ghostwriter’s computer. The government considered charging the ghostwriter with obstruction but ultimately decided against it based on their findings. 

Mr. Biden on Thursday said he never shared classified information with the ghostwriter. 

“I guarantee you, I did not,” Mr. Biden said.

“I had written a long memorandum to President Obama, why we should not be in Afghanistan, multiple pages,” the president said. “And so what I was referring to, I said classified, what I should have said, it was, it should be private, because it was a contact between the president and the vice president.”

“It was not classified information in that document,” Mr. Biden insisted. “That was not classified.”

Mr. Biden also addressed the report’s assertions that he had trouble recalling basic facts like what years he served as vice president and when his son, Beau Biden, died. 

“How in the hell dare he raise that,” Mr. Biden said. Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself it wasn’t any of their damn business.

Mr. Biden said he has worn a rosary on his wrist every day since his son died, although he appeared to struggle to complete the name of the church from which the rosary came. The president also said his family holds a memorial for his son every year.

“I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away,” Mr. Biden said. 

“The simple truth is, I sat for a five-hour interview over two days of events going back 40 years. At the same time, I was managing an international crisis,” Mr. Biden said, referencing Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which had occurred one day before the first day of his interview with the special counsel.

Mr. Biden said the special counsel’s job was to decide whether or not to bring charges, and that any other “extraneous commentary” had “no place in this report.” 

“The bottom line is the matter is now closed, and we can continue what I’ve always focused on: My job of being president of the United States of America,” Mr. Biden said. 

Speaking with a reporter who raised the issue of Hur’s assertion a jury would find the president to be a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Mr. Biden responded, “I’m well-meaning and I’m an elderly man and I know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve been president and I put this country back on its feet. I don’t need his recommendation.”

Mr. Biden said his memory is “fine,” and “has not gotten worse” over the course of his presidency.

During the news conference, the president also discussed the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, referring to Israel’s actions in Gaza as “over the top.”

Mr. Biden touted his success in convincing Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi to allow humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, although he referred to him as the president of Mexico. Mr. Biden also said he has been pushing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to allow aid to enter from Israel as well.

“There are a lot of innocent people who are starving. A lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop,” Mr. Biden said. 

“I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage cease-fire,” the president said. Mr. Biden said he had been “working tirelessly” for a “sustained pause in the fighting, in the actions taking place in the Gaza Strip.”

“I think if we can get the delay for that, an initial delay, I think that we would be able to extend that so we could increase the prospect that this fighting in Gaza changes,” Mr. Biden said. 

Netanyahu on Wednesday rejected demands for a cease-fire and said Israel’s military would continue moving into the southern Gaza city of Rafa, where more than 1 million people have fled to escape to war.

Mr. Biden also expressed hope that prior negotiations with other leaders in the Middle East regarding Israeli security would continue, and insinuated it was possible Hamas’s attack was designed to halt those talks.

— Catherine Herridge, Robert Legare, Arden Farhi, Adriana Diaz, Andres Triay  

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