February 12, 2024
President Joe Biden forcefully defended himself against charges that he suffers from memory loss—delivering remarks on Thursday night, February 8, at the White House in response to Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report on his handling of classified information, reports NBC News.
Hur’s report included characterizations of the president’s mental fitness, saying his memory was “significantly limited, both during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017, and in his interview with our office in 2023.”
The report also said Biden did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died.
“How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden said,—adding that when he was asked about son Beau’s death during the probe, he thought to himself that it “wasn’t any of their damn business.” Biden’s son died in 2015 from brain cancer.v
“I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away,” Biden said Thursday night, reiterating that he wears his late son’s rosary beads and honors him with a service every Memorial Day. The president often talks about Beau in speeches, especially in discussing loss and grief.
Biden also said, “My memory’s fine,” in response to a reporter’s question.
Later in his remarks, Biden mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi as the president of Mexico. The flub took place when Biden was answering a question about the Israel-Hamas war, and it was the third time last week that he has mixed up heads of state.
Biden appeared hours after Hur released his report into the president’s handling of classified documents. Hur declined to prosecute the president, but he found that he “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen.”
White House officials concluded Thursday evening that Biden needed to address the special counsel’s most damning allegations head-on and express his anger about the report directly, according to two people familiar with the decision.
Senior Biden aides believed it was imperative for the president to call out what they viewed as purely political criticism from Hur because, they argued, the special counsel was concerned about potential blowback from conservatives for not charging Biden with a crime, one of the people said.
The White House staff also believed, as evidenced by the president’s fiery remarks about knowing when his late son Beau died, that the attacks on his memory were “way out of line” and “gratuitous,” the source said.
Biden on Thursday night reiterated the distinction the special counsel’s report made between his handling of classified documents and former President Donald Trump’s. Earlier in the day, he briefly addressed the report in a pre-announced speech, saying he was “especially pleased” that it “made clear the stark differences between this case and Donald Trump.”
In response to a reporter’s question Thursday night about what he would have done differently, Biden talked about the importance of overseeing the transfer of materials.
“I should have done that,” he said.
“I didn’t know how half the boxes got in my garage until I found out staff gathered them up and put them together and took them to the garage in my home,” he added.
But Biden pushed back against the report’s language that he “willfully retained” classified documents, saying such assertions were “not only misleading; they’re just plain wrong.”
The pushback came in response to part of Hur’s report that details a recorded 2017 conversation Biden had with his ghostwriter, in which he said he “just found all this classified stuff downstairs,” according to the report. He told the ghostwriter in a recording, “Some of this may be classified, so be careful.”
The report also threw doubt on whether a jury would convict Biden had Hur decided to bring charges.
“We have also considered that, at trial, … 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. Based on our direct interactions with and observations of him, he is someone for whom many jurors will want to identify reasonable doubt,” the report said. “It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him—by then a former president well into his eighties—of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”
Research contact: @NBCNews