The Justice Department special counsel’s Thursday report declining to charge President Joe Biden for mishandling classified documents handed fresh fodder to congressional Republicans who have questioned his fitness to be reelected.
The report, prepared by special counsel Robert Hur, concluded that criminal charges against Biden wouldn’t be warranted even if DOJ lacked an internal policy against prosecuting sitting presidents. Hur’s investigation found evidence that Biden “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency,” the report states, but it didn’t “establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Several top Republicans were less incensed about that finding, however, than they were about the report’s contention that Biden would be perceived in any court proceedings as a “sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.”
Speaker Mike Johnson, Majority Leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), GOP Whip Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), in a joint statement, said that the remarks on Biden’s memory were among the report’s “most disturbing parts.”
“A man too incapable of being held accountable for mishandling classified information is certainly unfit for the Oval Office,” they added.
Rep. Ralph Norman (R-S.C.) added that the finding is “not exactly a glowing description” of Biden, while the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, quickly chimed in on X that “Joe Biden is unfit to be president.”
“Is this a joke?” posted Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee.
The DOJ report follows House Republicans’ push to turn Biden’s handling of classified documents into a main focus of their sweeping impeachment inquiry into the president. House Republicans sought details from Attorney General Merrick Garland last year about the scope of Hur’s probe.
Richard Sauber, a special counsel to the president, and Bob Bauer, Biden’s personal counsel, sent a joint letter to Hur on Monday asking that he revise his descriptions on Biden’s memory “so that they are stated in a manner that is within the bounds of your expertise and remit.”
“We do not believe that the report’s treatment of President Biden’s memory is accurate or appropriate. The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events. Such comments have no place in a Department of Justice report,” they added.
While Republicans focused most of their immediate reaction on the report’s descriptions of Biden’s memory, Hur’s team also revived a perennial talking point for Republicans: that the DOJ has become a “two-tier justice system,” holding Democratic allies to a lower standard than GOP ones. At the heart of this claim: the DOJ’s charges filed against former President Donald Trump for mishandling classified documents after leaving office. Hur’s report draws a contrast between the two cases, noting that Trump allegedly refused to return classified documents for months while Biden turned in classified documents and cooperated with the investigation.
“President Biden mishandled classified documents for years, storing them in the garage of his Delaware home, and yet, no charges are expected,” said Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.). “Tennesseans and Americans are fed up with the two tiers of justice that has become the status quo of this administration.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told reporters that: “A lot of Republicans will think there’s a double standard.”
“The American people will make a decision on whether he’s up to another term based on things like this,” he added.
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