US prosecutor Robert Hur defends comments about Joe Biden's 'poor memory'

Story by Reuters

The U.S. prosecutor who sparked a political firestorm last month with a report saying President Joe Biden had a "poor memory" defended his assessment on Tuesday, saying it was needed for his probe of the president's handling of classified documents.

Former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Hur spoke to the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, which has been one of the panels conducting an impeachment inquiry into Biden, 81.

"My assessment in the report about the relevance of the President's memory was necessary and accurate and fair," Hur said in his opening statement. "I did not sanitize my explanation. Nor did I disparage the President unfairly. I explained to the Attorney General my decision and the reasons for it. That's what I was required to do."

Hur, the former top federal prosecutor in Maryland, declined to bring criminal charges against Biden after a monthslong investigation into classified documents found at Biden's personal home and former office.

Hur, a Republican, said Biden's memory and state of mind were relevant to his conclusions about whether Biden knowingly retained sensitive information.

The report concluded that "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."

A transcript of Hur's interview with Biden reviewed by Reuters, conducted last October as Biden grappled with the fallout from Hamas's Oct. 7 assault on Israel, showed that the president brought up the issue of his memory first.

"I'm a young man, so it's not a problem," Biden, 81, said jokingly to Hur when the prosecutor said he'd be asking questions about events that happened years earlier, the transcript showed.

The transcript showed Biden gave freewheeling answers to many of Hur's questions, but struggled to recall certain details, including when he left the vice presidency.

Hur appeared before Congress the week after Biden made a fiery State of the Union speech that signaled an aggressive start to the Democratic president's reelection campaign, a rematch with Republican predecessor Donald Trump.

Trump, 77, is facing multiple criminal prosecutions, including one over his own mishandling of classified documents. Hur's report cited distinctions between the two cases, including alleged acts of obstruction by Trump, but Republican lawmakers accused prosecutors of a double standard.

"Joe Biden broke the law but because he's a forgetful old man who would appear sympathetic to a jury, Mr. Hur chose not to bring charges," said Republican Jim Jordan, the chair of the House Judiciary committee.

Democrats on the committee cast the report as an "exoneration" of Biden, contrasting the president's cooperation with Hur's probe with Trump's alleged moves to conceal records from investigators.

Hur said politics played no part in his report, which drew anger from the White House.

Biden, the oldest person to hold the office of the U.S. president in history, lashed out against the characterization in public remarks following the report's release, saying his memory was fine, and Vice President Kamala Harris called the report politically motivated.

Hur was appointed as a U.S. attorney by Trump and made special counsel by Biden's Attorney General Merrick Garland after Biden's documents surfaced. His appointment ended on Monday, the department said.