After the release of a special counsel’s report that said President Biden would not be charged for mishandling classified documents, Democrats have sought to keep a focus on their argument that the report offers a far more damning assessment of former president Donald Trump, even as Republicans have continued to seize on material in the document that questioned Biden’s memory.
Special counsel Robert K. Hur’s 388-page report, released Thursday evening, opened by stating that the Justice Department had found no criminal charges were warranted, and that investigators would have reached the same conclusion even if Biden were not the president. Hur’s report also made “several material distinctions” between the cases of Biden and Trump, who is facing federal criminal charges centered on his own handling of classified documents.
“Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite. According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it,” Hur wrote.
Biden, on the other hand, “turned in classified documents to the National Archives and the Department of Justice, consented to the search of multiple locations including his homes, sat for a voluntary interview, and in other ways cooperated with the investigation,” the report noted.
Ian Sams, spokesman for White House Counsel’s Office, made an appearance at the White House news briefing Friday to emphasize that the Justice Department had found “no case to be made” against Biden, marking the first time in U.S. history that no one was indicted after a special counsel investigation.
Sams noted that Biden had directed his team to immediately return any classified documents that were found and never made attempts to obstruct justice. Biden also opened up “every room in his family home and his beach house for comprehensive FBI searches” and sat for two days of interviews with investigators — all while managing the fallout from the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas in Israel, Sams said.
“[Biden] didn’t exert executive privilege over any contents of the report. He was transparent. He had nothing to hide,” Sams said. “There was a long, intensive and in many ways, yes, excessive investigation. … Every theory was explored, but the facts and the evidence disputed them. The decision was that there was no case to be made.”
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) pushed back on Republican arguments that Hur’s decision not to charge Biden showed a two-tiered justice system, saying it was “absurd” to compare Biden’s case to Trump’s.
“Read the documents. It’s not hard. Biden fully cooperated. Trump obstructed at every turn,” Himes, the ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee, said on social media Friday. “They know this. And they know how damaging their arguments are to Americans’ confidence in their democracy.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, noted that Biden’s retention of a small number of records containing classified information bore “striking resemblances” to former vice president Mike Pence’s and former president Ronald Reagan’s handling of classified information after their time in office.
Trump, Raskin said, was the exception.
“To be clear, and as the Special Counsel’s report explicitly notes, there is plainly no comparison here to the conduct of former President Trump,” Raskin said in a statement Thursday. “Trump obstructed efforts by the National Archives and law enforcement to recover hundreds of government documents by deliberately hiding them, lying about their whereabouts, and enlisting others to destroy and conceal evidence. Trump willfully and unlawfully held onto hundreds of presidential and classified records, which he kept in a bathroom, ballroom, office, and other locations at Mar-A-Lago, and repeatedly showed them off to guests.”
Raskin, who also served on the House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, added that the House Oversight Committee will continue to explore ways to deal with “the more difficult problem of officials who deliberately steal and conceal confidential and top-secret government documents,” another reference to Trump.
In public responses to the report Thursday, the White House also emphasized those differences. Richard Sauber, an attorney for Biden, described the president’s cooperation throughout the 15-month investigation as “extraordinary” and minimized mentions in the report of Biden’s memory as “inaccurate and inappropriate comments” with which the White House disagreed.
“The simple truth is President Biden takes classified information seriously and strives to protect it. He has spent decades at the highest levels of government defending and advancing America’s national security and foreign policy interests and protecting her secrets,” Sauber said in a statement.
Though he did not mention Trump by name, Sauber noted that Hur had acknowledged in his report that mistakes when packing documents at the end of an administration are “unfortunately a common occurrence” that have happened with administrations from both parties for the past 50 years.
“Now that this investigation has concluded, President Biden plans to take new, substantive action to help prevent such mistakes in the future and will announce it soon,” he said. “We disagree with a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments in the Special Counsel’s report. Nonetheless, the most important decision the Special Counsel made — that no charges are warranted — is firmly based on the facts and evidence.”
Trump has continued to insist he is being treated unfairly by the Justice Department compared with how Biden was treated. Unlike other Republicans in their response to the report, Trump did not focus on the portions of the report that questioned Biden’s mental acuity.
“THIS HAS NOW PROVEN TO BE A TWO-TIERED SYSTEM OF JUSTICE AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL SELECTIVE PROSECUTION!” Trump posted on his social media network Thursday, in a rant that also falsely claimed that he had “cooperated far more” with authorities and that Biden had “50 times” more documents than he had.
The former president’s actions in his classified documents case led to that investigation becoming a criminal matter. The investigation into Trump’s missing documents has led to 40 federal criminal counts against Trump, including willful retention of national defense secrets and obstruction of justice.
Top House intelligence leaders who were part of the Gang of Eight — a bipartisan group that reviewed classified documents recovered from the homes of Biden, Trump Pence — were at odds in their comments on the special counsel’s report Thursday.
Himes, the ranking Democrat, emphasized in a statement that the former president had “multiple opportunities to return the hundreds of highly classified documents in his possession and he refused or failed to do so.”
But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), echoed the criticism of many prominent GOP figures. Turner said Biden had “willfully hoarded” the documents for decades, describing the special counsel’s decision to not pursue charges as emblematic of a “two-tiered system of justice.”
The Gang of Eight’s review, Himes added, made clear the need for “better systems” to track classified documents and “make sure they don’t end up where they don’t belong.”
On CNN on Friday morning, Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) asserted that Hur had used “very, very flimsy evidence” to conclude that Biden had willfully retained classified information, stressing that there was a difference between notes Biden had taken about classified information during his time in office vs. documents with actual classified markings on them.
“President Biden, as part of his job, took copious notes — some of it must have been on classified information, some of it unclassified — and he understandably believed that his notes were his and they didn’t have classified markings on them,” Goldman said on CNN. “That’s a big difference.”
Goldman also accused Hur, a Trump appointee, of including comments about Biden’s memory to deflect Republican criticism “because he did not charge President Biden, who cooperated fully, whereas Donald Trump was charged, partially because of his extreme obstruction of justice.”
Meanwhile, Republicans have overwhelmingly seized on Hur’s characterizations of Biden’s age and memory, arguing that the report portrayed someone unfit for office. In remarks from the White House on Thursday night, Biden vehemently disputed the report’s questioning of his mental acuity. A flub later in the news conference — when Biden mixed up the presidents of Mexico and Egypt — only fueled a Friday morning news frenzy surrounding his memory, however.
During the White House briefing, Sams pushed back on what he said were “gratuitous and inappropriate criticisms” of Biden’s memory included in the report.
“The gratuitous comments — that respected experts are saying is out of line — are inappropriate and they shouldn’t distract from the fact that the case is closed and the facts and evidence show that they reached the right conclusion,” Sams said.
Other Democrats have defended Biden, pointing out recent flubs by Trump — who has mistakenly said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban was the president of Turkey — and by House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who last week confused Iran with Israel in an interview.
Mariana Alfaro and Praveena Somasundaram contributed to this report.