“To me, it was like being in a Comey movie.”
As the special counsel Robert Hur’s report detonated Thursday, a senior Biden campaign official reached that conclusion.
As part of the narrative that doomed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign in 2016, FBI Director James Comey blasted the former president for being “extremely careless” with confidential material and pointed out that there was “evidence of potential violations” of the law.
After that, he broke the bad news: “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” Comey was heavily criticised for his behaviour by the inspector general of the justice department in a subsequent report.
Officials from Biden’s campaign claimed that Hur, like Comey, placed his “thumb on the scale during an election season.”
In their conversation with Hur prior to the report’s public release, Biden’s attorneys used the C-word.
They insisted on knowing why Hur had used the same language as Biden to condemn Trump’s holding of sensitive documents—”totally irresponsible”—when they had already taken care to distinguish between the two instances elsewhere in the report. The legal team representing Biden cited the Inspector General’s findings on Comey as evidence that “totally irresponsible” had replaced “extremely careless” and constituted “criticism of an uncharged party” that violated DOJ rules.
With two pages of vehement language, Biden’s legal team set out their amazement and outrage at Hur’s repeated attacks of Biden’s memory—an subject that, given voters’ concerns about the president’s age, is key to the 2024 election—and hence the true danger in the report.
With the most quoted phrase from the paper coming from Hur, “We have also considered that, at trial, 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,” according to the dossier.
However, lots more was involved:
Page 9: "From his 2017 recorded interviews with the ghostwriter to his 2023 interview with our office, Mr. Biden's memory was noticeably impaired."
Page 208: "It seemed like Mr. Biden's memory had some serious problems as well... The recorded talks between Mr. Biden and [ghostwriter Mark] Zwonitzer from 2017 are frequently excruciatingly sluggish. Mr. Biden has trouble remembering details and strains to read and convey his own notebook entries at points. Unfortunately, Mr. Biden's memory was even poorer when he interviewed with our office. On the first day of the interview, he forgot the exact year that his stint as vice president ended ('if it was 2013 — when did I quit being Vice President?'), and on the second day, he forgot the exact year that his term began ('in 2009, am I still Vice President?').
Page 247: "According to these jurors, Mr Biden's apparent shortcomings and mistakes in February and April will probably seem in line with the impaired abilities and forgetfulness he displayed in Zwonitzer's interview recordings and during our own interview with him."
The editorialising was immediately attacked by Biden’s legal team, who said that the descriptions were neither “accurate nor appropriate.”
They stated that Hur’s report employs biassed wording to characterise a typical phenomenon among witnesses: a failure to remember details from incidents that occurred years ago. This is not the place for such remarks in a report from the Department of Justice, especially when the very first paragraph states that “the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt” and that “no criminal charges are warranted.”
Knowing the worst-case scenario for the document, White House officials spent the week hoping that their back-channel appeal would result in modifications, but they had no idea what Hur would do. “Hur did not indicate whether he would make any changes,” the source said, referring to the procedure.
The arguments put out by the Biden legal team did not seem to sway Hur. On Thursday, White House officials reviewed the final version, and everything that had been said about Biden’s “hazy,” “significantly limited,” and “poor” memory, as well as his “totally irresponsible” acts, remained unchanged.
“He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died.” In Biden’s view, this was the most insulting and cheap shot.
While Biden was in Virginia for the yearly House Democratic conference, the report was released. During a private gathering with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar, and other party officials, the president reportedly aired his frustrations about the Beau line. “You think I would fucking forget the day my son died?” he asked, according to the AP.
During a question and answer session with a bigger number of House Democrats, he recited the statement sans the F-bomb. And according to someone who was in the know about last night’s rushed news conference, Biden was still fuming over the Beau line and decided to face the press to defend himself from Hur’s insults, where he further muddied the waters regarding his memory problems by calling Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi the “president of Mexico.”
From the perspective of Biden’s inner circle, two things motivated Hur to write the editorials:
Extremism: "We have to remind people that this is a MAGA guy," the campaign official stated.
Anger: Hur had been unable to uncover any criminal behaviour.
“The prevailing feeling is that they poured all these resources into investigating — and we were very cooperative — and he’s the only special counsel investigation that’s ever not led to charges,” said one Democratic defender of the president. “And I believe that there may be underlying animosity that resulted in this excessive criticism: ‘Allow me to criticise Biden regarding his memory!'” Not to mention going against the grain of what most people would consider to be Beau’s character.
The Biden camp is acting defensively because they are aware that Hur has brought up a problem that their campaign commercials and elaborate strategies have failed to address.
“The fact that he’s a senior citizen is not going to go away,” the Biden campaign official told Playbook. The American people need constant reminders that “we forget shit,” as I’ve told my coworkers.