Special counsel finds Biden “willfully” disclosed classified documents, but no criminal charges warranted

Washington — Special counsel Robert Hur issued his report on President Biden’s handling of classified documents from his time as vice president, finding that no criminal charges were warranted. The special counsel said he would have reached the same conclusion even if the Justice Department did not foreclose charges against a sitting president.

“We conclude that the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the report says. “Prosecution of Mr. Biden is also unwarranted based on our consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors.” 

But Hur’s report nonetheless contained significant criticism of Mr. Biden and his handling of classified information.

“Our investigation uncovered evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen,” the report said. 

The special counsel’s 345-page report offers a detailed picture of Mr. Biden’s final days as vice president and the years that followed. Classified documents that should have been sent to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) instead ended up in various locations including his homes and offices. 

Investigators conducted 173 interviews of 147 witnesses — including the president himself. They collected over 7 million documents from both classified and unclassified sources. 

There were documents marked classified regarding military and foreign policy in Afghanistan and notebooks containing Mr. Biden’s entries about national security and foreign policy matters “implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods,” according to the report. 

The special counsel said Biden’s conduct “present[ed] serious risks to national security, given the vulnerability of extraordinarily sensitive information to loss or compromise to America’s adversaries…But addressing those risks when pursuing criminal charges, the only means available to this office, is not the proper remedy here.” 

During Mr. Biden’s eight years as vice president, he took notes, some of which were “related to classified subjects including the President’s Daily Brief and National Security Council meetings,” the report state. The notebooks Mr. Biden used were kept in his Virginia and Delaware homes, and he used them as reference material for his 2017 memoir “Promise Me, Dad” and shared contents with his ghostwriter.

But the special counsel determined that “the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” and listed various potential defenses that could demonstrate that the documents could plausibly have been brought to these locations by mistake.

“Mr. Biden shared information, including some classified information, from these notebooks with his ghostwriter,” the report said, adding that the ghostwriter deleted audio recordings made for the memoir upon learning of the special counsel’s appointment. 

“The recordings had significant evidentiary value,” the report said. But the FBI was able to recover the deleted files from the ghostwriter’s computer. The government considered charging the ghostwriter with obstruction but ultimately decided against it based on their findings. 

Trump documents investigation

Hur’s investigation into Mr. Biden’s handling of classified documents began against the backdrop of another special counsel investigation into Mr. Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 40 federal counts that he allegedly retained classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate and rebuffed Justice Department and NARA efforts to retrieve them. FBI personnel executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago in August 2022 and gathered in all more than 300 documents with classified markings. The former president was charged with illegally retaining 32 of them. Jack Smith was appointed special counsel three months later, shortly after Trump announced his 2024 bid for the White House. 

Hur’s report explicitly compares Biden’s response to the federal investigation with former president Trump’s. Where Biden sat for an interview and was cooperative with investigators, “Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite,” Hur wrote. “According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice.” 

In early January 2023, CBS News reported that classified documents had been found at Mr. Biden’s private office. The White House later disclosed that more documents with classification markings had been found by his lawyers in the garage and an adjacent room of his Wilmington home in mid-December 2022. The special counsel’s report confirms that FBI agents recovered materials from these locations.

Hur outlines material distinctions between former President Trump and Mr. Biden in their handling of sensitive documents. In Mr. Biden’s case, the special counsel found there wasn’t evidence that he had personally moved the documents. He cooperated with the investigation, and he may have forgotten about the documents. 

The Justice Department said that it received Hur’s report Monday evening and submitted it to Congress Thursday. 

The White House counsel’s office concluded its privilege review of Hur’s report on Thursday morning and told the Justice Department that Mr. Biden declined to assert privilege over any portion, “in keeping with his commitment to cooperation and transparency throughout this investigation,” according to Ian Sams, spokesperson for the office. 

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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