Joe Biden makes mistake on Gaza – while defending himself against report that calls him 'elderly man with a poor memory'

By Isaac M February 10, 2024

Joe Biden’s fitness to continue as president, let alone run for the White House again, is beginning to be questioned after a special counsel investigation into the handling of classified documents said he portrayed himself as an “elderly man with a poor memory”.

Robert Hur said President Biden had “wilfully retained and disclosed classified materials” after he was vice president and when he was a “private citizen”, and his actions “present serious risks to national security”.

But the prosecutor said he chose not to bring criminal charges following a 15-month investigation because Mr Biden cooperated and would likely be difficult to convict.

This image, contained in the report from special counsel Robert Hur, shows notebooks in a file cabinet under a printer that were seized in first-floor home office of President Joe Biden in Wilmington, Del., on Jan. 20, 2023, during a search by FBI agents. (Justice Department via AP)
Images have been released of the classified files seized. Pic: AP

This image, contained in the report from special counsel Robert Hur, and marked with the number 1, shows a damaged box where classified documents were found in the garage of President Joe Biden in Wilmington, Del., during a search by the FBI on Dec. 21, 2022. (Justice Department via AP)
Pic: AP

“We have considered that, at 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,” he wrote in a report.

Mr Hur said that Mr Biden’s memory was “significantly limited” when he was interviewed by members of his prosecution team.

The report claims he could not remember when he was vice president or when his son, Beau Biden, died.

This image, contained in the report from special counsel Robert Hur, shows a box of files, found in the garage of President Joe Biden and annotating the "Facts First folder" where classified documents relating to Afghanistan were found in Wilmington, Del., during a search by the FBI on Dec. 21, 2022. (Justice Department via AP)
Pic: AP

This image, contained in the report from special counsel Robert Hur, shows the envelope labeled "Eyes Only" with a handwritten note reading "VPOTUS," that contained classified documents that were found in Box 3 of documents housed at the Penn Biden Center in Washington. (Justice Department via AP)
Pic: AP

And President Biden did himself no favours in trying to convince the American public of his fitness for office when, in a news conference following the special counsel’s decision, he confused the presidents of Mexico and Egypt when discussing aid to Gaza.

Criticism of memory devastating for president

Former president Donald Trump, who faces a 40-count indictment for retaining classified documents, has criticised the decision not to prosecute Mr Biden as the mark of a “two-tiered system of justice”.

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Biden confuses presidents of Mexico and Egypt

Insisting he “cooperated completely”, Mr Biden, whose vice presidency started in January 2009 and ended in January 2017, welcomed the conclusion and said he agreed to five hours of in-person interviews over the two days following Hamas’s attack on Israel on 7 October last year.

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Biden’s ‘awful’ day

Richard Sauber, special counsel to the president, said mistakes when packing documents while leaving office are “unfortunately a common occurrence” and happened with every administration for the past 50 years.

But he added the White House disagreed with “a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments” in the special counsel’s report.

US leadership has been undermined in a very personal way

Well to say this was an awkward day for the president is an understatement. It was an awful day and he made it even worse at the very end with the Mexico-Egypt slip up.

There have been questions for a long time about Mr Biden’s fitness. But he has a regular medical, and his doctors say he’s fine. Really though this is about perception as much as anything else. And it’s a perception now underlined by the special counsel’s report.

On the right of politics they’ve been calling his fitness for office into question for ages. I think the thing to watch now is how his own side react. They can’t ignore this.

But the thing is, there is no mechanism in America, at this stage in an election campaign, to switch candidates. He wants to run, he’s the candidate on the ballot in the primaries which are already underway.

The other thing, of course, is how this looks beyond America in a world where there is so much uncertainty right now.

American leadership has been undermined in a very personal way.

Read more from Mark Stone here

The report could embarrass Mr Biden, 81, amid criticism he is too old to serve another four-year term – having also tried to draw a contrast with Mr Trump on personal ethics and national security.

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‘Classified stuff downstairs’

The investigation found Mr Biden took classified information about the US war in Afghanistan and other national security matters.

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Biden ‘pleased’ with special counsel’s decision

Mr Biden told a writer working on his memoir at a home he was renting in Virginia in February 2017 that he had “just found all the classified stuff downstairs”.

The writer deleted audio recordings of his conversations with Mr Biden after learning about the investigation, Mr Hur said, but he kept transcripts.

Donald Trump campaign in Las Vegas last month. Pic: AP
Donald Trump criticised the decision. Pic: AP

Mr Hur’s report said the conversation created “the best case” for charges against Mr Biden, but he also wrote the documents may have been taken to his home while he was vice president, when he had the authority.

Members of Mr Biden’s legal team found the classified papers at the office of his Washington thinktank and his personal residence in Wilmington in Delaware.

What’s the difference with Donald Trump’s case?

In a statement, Mr Trump described the report’s decision as “unconstitutional selective prosecution” as he battles his own case around the seizure of classified files.

A photo published by the U.S. Justice Department in their charging document against former U.S. President Donald Trump shows boxes of documents stored in a bathroom at Trump's Mar-a-Lago club in Florida in early 2021 as seen embedded in the document released by the Justice Department in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2023. U.S. Justice Department/Handout via REUTERS TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Boxes of documents at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club. Pic: US Justice Department

While the two cases have similarities, there are also some notable differences.

Mr Trump was charged after prosecutors said he refused for months to turn over boxes of presidential records at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and took steps to conceal the documents after the US government demanded their return.

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An FBI search in August 2022 turned up more than 100 classified documents on the property, prosecutors alleged.

He has pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of political motivations ahead of a trial scheduled for May, which is likely to be delayed.

Mr Biden’s lawyers have said they notified the National Archives after finding a “small number” of classified documents in November 2022.

Additional documents were later found in a garage and library at his Delaware home and turned over to the Justice Department.


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