Washington: In a damaging report ahead of the November 5 polls, a special US counsel has said that President Joe Biden "willfully" mishandled classified documents as a private citizen but concluded that it would be difficult to convict him as he comes across as an "elderly man with a poor memory".
The special counsel report said he had kept secret documents related to military and foreign policy in Afghanistan after serving as vice president until 2017.
The comment by Special Counsel Robert Hur in his 345-page report described Biden, 81, as “an elderly man with poor memory”, prompting a furious response from the president who held an impromptu press conference at the White House during which he asserted that his “memory is fine.” The report was released after an investigation that lasted more than a year and related to classified files found at Biden's home and former private office from 2022-23.
The report revealed for the first time that the documents were classified as Top Secret - the highest level of classification, and related to Afghanistan.
The files included notebooks containing Biden's entries about national security and foreign policy matters "implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods".
The report criticised Biden for sharing some of the sensitive material in those notebooks with a ghostwriter for his memoir.
Hur said: "We conclude that the evidence does not establish Mr Biden's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt." "Prosecution of Mr Biden is also unwarranted based on our consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors." Biden's memory was significantly limited, both during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017, and in his interview with the Special Counsel's office in 2023, he said.
"And his cooperation with our investigation, including by reporting to the government that the Afghanistan documents were in his Delaware garage, will likely convince some jurors that he made an innocent mistake, rather than acting willfully-that is, with intent to break the law as the statute requires,” Hur wrote.
The special counsel's report said that it would be difficult to convict the president of improper handling of files because "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 poor memory.
“In his interview with our office, Mr. Biden's memory was worse. He 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?")," Hur said.
He did not remember, even within several years when his son Beau died. And his memory appeared hazy when describing the Afghanistan debate that was once so important to him, Hur said.
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 (Barack) Obama,” said the report.
Responding to reporters’ questions, Biden expressed his anger and displeasure at the counsel’s report on his memory.
“There’s even a reference that I don’t remember when my son died. How in the hell dare he raise that. It wasn’t any of their damn business... I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away,” a furious Biden told reporters at the White House.
“Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, was it any of their damn business...The simple truth is that I sat for five hours, two days, over events going back 40 years. At the same time, I was managing a national crisis,” Biden asserted.
“I’ve seen headlines since the report was released about my willful retention of documents. This assertion is not only misleading, it’s just plain wrong,” he said.
In a letter to the special counsel, President’s Special Counsel Richard Sauber took objection to the report in his memory, which came months ahead of the US presidential elections.
“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, particularly one that in the first paragraph announces that no criminal charges are "warranted'' and that "the evidence does not establish Mr Biden's guilt",” said the president’s counsel.
Biden told reporters that he did not break any law in the handling of classified documents.
“I did not break the law, period,” he said asserting that the claim that he “willfully” retained documents, is misleading.
“The bottom line is, the matter is now closed. I’ll continue what I’ve always focused on, my job of being president of the United States of America,” he said.
Biden is likely to secure his Democratic Party's presidential nomination in the absence of any solid competitor.
On the Republican side, former president Donald Trump is set to win his party's nomination.
The Trump Campaign in a statement said that Biden lied to the nation.
“Joe Biden lied to the nation Thursday night. He said that he "did not share classified information" with his ghostwriter. That's a lie. Special Counsel Robert Hur's report states that Biden's "disclosure of classified information from his notebooks to his ghostwriter, risked serious damage to America's national security",” said his campaign.
Democrat Richard Blumenthal, though admitting he has not read the report, dismissed some of the claims that question Biden’s memory, saying, “I’ve talked to him at hours on end as recently as a couple of months ago” and the president is “as sharp as ever.” Blumenthal said this will not affect the 2024 election.