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Ex-special counsel, appearing before House, defends Biden classified documents probe

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

For more than four hours yesterday, former special counsel Robert Hur was questioned by House lawmakers. He defended his investigation into President Biden's handling of classified documents and pushed back against accusations from both sides of the aisle that politics played a role in his probe.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ROBERT HUR: Partisan politics had no place whatsoever in my work. It had no place in the investigative steps that I took. It had no place in the decision that I made, and it had no place in a single word of my report.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is covering this. Ryan, Hur's report on his investigation was released more than a month ago. Yesterday, though, first time he's spoken about it publicly. What'd he have to say?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, Hur spent a decent amount of time defending his investigation and his decisions. Remember, Hur's investigation found evidence that Biden willfully retained classified materials, even disclosed some classified information. But Hur said the evidence wasn't strong enough to prove Biden's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And so he said no charges were warranted in the case. Now, Hur told lawmakers yesterday that he knew he had to explain in his report in detail how he came to his decisions. He said he had to show his work, his analysis of the evidence, how it might be perceived by a jury. And that includes, he said, making a determination on the president's state of mind, including his memory. And so addressing Biden's memory in his report, Hur said, was necessary. He said his assessment was accurate. It was fair. He also added this.

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HUR: Most importantly, what I wrote is what I believe the evidence shows and what I expect jurors would perceive and believe. I did not sanitize my explanation, nor did I disparage the president unfairly.

MARTÍNEZ: Democrats, though, disagreed. They sharply criticized Hur when this report came out. The White House did, as well. Did Hur's explanation pass the muster with them?

LUCAS: This was really the main point of contention for Democrats in this hearing, in large part because Biden's age has become an issue in the 2024 campaign in his rematch with former President Trump, who, of course, is not a young man himself. One of the main lines of attack from Democrats in the hearing was on this very point. Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson, his California colleague, Adam Schiff, both accused Hur in no uncertain terms of including that line about Biden's mental fitness for purely political purposes. Hur pushed back on that firmly. He told them, no, that's just flat wrong.

MARTÍNEZ: Hur interviewed Biden as part of this investigation for five hours over two days in October. So how does Hur's description of Biden's memory line up with the transcript of those interviews?

LUCAS: Well, House Judiciary Democrats posted the transcript on their website last night, and it's a more complicated or a more nuanced picture than Hur's line - one line, really, portrayal of Biden as a well-meaning, older gentleman who struggles to remember things. Congress had been asking for the transcript. It did get it right before Hur's hearing. So the fight over this transcript, I think, points to how important this issue is in the eyes of both Republicans and Democrats, and how they want to frame this issue for the public as the country moves into 2024 campaign mode.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. You mentioned Republicans. What did they press Hur on?

LUCAS: Well, they pressed Hur several times on his decision not to pursue charges. They also claimed that Hur's decision not to do so shows what they say is a two-tier justice system, since Biden wasn't charged, but President Trump, of course, is facing charges for mishandling classified documents after leaving office. But there are significant distinctions between the two cases. Hur even points them out in his report. Trump had several chances to return the classified materials that ended up at Mar-a-Lago. Prosecutors say he refused. They say Trump actively tried to obstruct the investigation, that he tried to get others to destroy evidence and then lie about it. That contrasts with Biden, who Hur acknowledged voluntarily cooperated with investigators and, of course, sat down for an interview with Hur himself.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thanks.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.