‘Poor memory’, risky actions: What the Joe Biden classified documents investigation found

Key Points
  • An investigation into alleged mishandling of classified documents has concluded with no charges for Joe Biden.
  • The probe was launched after Biden’s legal team found classified papers at his think tank and personal residence.
  • Biden cannot face federal criminal charges as a sitting president under a longstanding Justice Department policy.
President Joe Biden will not face criminal charges for taking about national security matters with him when he left the vice presidency in 2017, a United States prosecutor has said in a newly released report.
Special counsel Robert Hur said on Thursday he opted against bringing criminal charges after a 15-month investigation because Biden cooperated and would likely be difficult to convict.
“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,” Hur wrote.

Hur’s conclusion ensures that Biden, unlike his expected 2024 presidential rival Donald Trump, will not risk prison time for mishandling sensitive government documents.

US President Joe Biden did not speak to reporters as he departed the White House following the release of the report. Source: AAP / TheNews2

But it could cause further embarrassment for Biden, 81, as he tries to convince voters that he is not too old to serve another four-year term. Biden has also sought to draw a contrast with Trump on issues of personal ethics and national security.

Trump has described the four criminal prosecutions he faces — including one for his handling of classified documents — as politically motivated. He has claimed, without evidence, that Biden was behind the state and federal cases.
A group allied with Trump’s campaign seized on Hur’s comments about Biden’s memory.
“If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president,” said Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for Make America Great Again Inc.

“Joe Biden is unfit to lead this nation.”

Documents in a box that is on the floor of a garage.

The report contained a photo of a damaged box containing classified documents at Biden’s home. Source: AAP, AP / /

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

Biden’s lawyers said he had engaged in honest mistakes, not wrongdoing, and had cooperated with the investigation. They criticised Hur for what they said was overreach.
“It was plain from the outset that criminal charges were not warranted,” his personal lawyer Bob Bauer said. “Yet the special counsel could not refrain from investigative excess.”

White House lawyer Richard Sauber said Hur’s report contained “a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments.”

What did the report find?

Hur found that Biden took a handwritten memo to then-President Barack Obama in 2009 opposing a planned troop surge in Afghanistan, and handwritten notes related to intelligence briefings and national security meetings.
“Our investigation uncovered evidence that President Biden wilfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen,” Hur wrote.
His report found that Biden read aloud classified notebook passages to his ghostwriter on at least three occasions recounting meetings in the White House Situation Room.

The ghostwriter deleted audio recordings of his conversations with Biden after learning about the special counsel’s investigation but kept transcripts, Hur said.

Vehicles parked outside a home.

Joe Biden’s legal team found classified papers at his personal residence in Wilmington, Delaware. Source: AAP, AP / Carolyn Kaster

Hur wrote that Biden’s actions “present serious risks to national security, given the vulnerability of extraordinarily sensitive information to loss or compromise to America’s adversaries”.

But he said the documents may have been taken to Biden’s home while he was vice president, when he had the authority to keep such documents.

Hur said Biden would not have faced charges, even absent a longstanding Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president.

How do Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s cases differ?

Members of Biden’s legal team found the classified papers at the office of Biden’s Washington think tank and his personal residence in Wilmington, Delaware.
Trump faces a 40-count federal indictment for retaining after leaving office in 2021 and obstructing US government efforts to retrieve them.
While the two cases have similarities, there are also some notable differences.
The White House said Biden’s attorneys found a small number of classified documents and turned them over after discovery.

Trump resisted doing so until a 2022 FBI search turned up about 100 classified documents, leading to obstruction of justice charges against Trump and two employees at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Hur, who served in senior roles at the Justice Department during the Trump administration, was appointed in January 2023 to oversee the investigation.
Hur’s investigators interviewed Biden in October as part of his probe.
Hur’s decision not to bring criminal charges is likely to fuel accusations of a double standard from Trump and his allies.

Trump has pleaded not guilty and accused prosecutors of political motivations. A trial is scheduled for May but is likely to be delayed.

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