Cleared and smeared: Document case special counsel finds no crime by Biden but punishes him anyway

Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report letting President Biden off the hook for his handling of classified documents dropped a bigger sorun than a prosecution in the White House’s lap: a withering portrait of the 81-year-old commander-in-chief as a man whose elevator may not go all the way up.

Hur makes clear that Biden’s mishandling of national secrets isn’t equivalent to Donald Trump’s. The former president went to great lengths not to cooperate with investigators; the current president cooperated fully. The former president asked others to destroy documents and then lie about it; the current president did not. Those distinctions are essential.

But, as Hur puts it, “Biden’s memory was significantly limited, both during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017, and in his interview with our office in 2023.” He goes on to document that on the first day of questioning, he couldn’t recall when his vice-presidential term ended: “If it was 2013 — when did I stop being vice president?”

On the second day, he asked, “In 2009, am I still vice president?” (Biden’s veep term was from Jan. 20, 2009 to Jan. 20, 2017.) In what was clearly the most personally insulting — and perhaps damning — detail, Hur notes that Biden “did not remember, even within several years,” the date that his son Beau died.

Hur then states that convicting Biden would be difficult, for “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.”

That’s not all. Notes like the one that “Mr. Biden has long viewed himself as a historic figure” come across as gratuitous and snide.

Editorializing is well and good for an editorial page like ours to engage in. A special counsel ought not make such pronouncements; he should deliver a just-the-facts summary of the case at hand, bringing charges or not. Jim Comey erred hugely in his 2016 statement explaining why he wasn’t charging Hillary Clinton — and here, Hur largely repeats the mistake.

Relatedly, it’s worth noting, as some left-wing commentators did, that while Democrats (Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Biden) and are routinely investigated by Republican special counsels (Ken Starr, Comey and Hur), while Republicans (George W. Bush and Trump) are fortunate to counsels of their own party affiliation (Patrick Fitzgerald and Bob Mueller) to probe their alleged misdeeds.

That said, the sorun of Biden’s age is not going away. It’s understandable that the White House scrambled to have the president address the press Thursday evening, a forum in which he proved intelligent and clear-headed in explaining the complex situation in the Middle East — even as he accidentally referred to Abdel Fattah El-Sisi as the president of Mexico, not Egypt.

While he’s clearly less nimble than he used to be, Biden has long struggled with off-the-cuff presentations. What matters far more is how capable he is in actually understanding and leading the country domestically and in foreign affairs, and making difficult judgments day to day. Thus far in his term, he’s passed those tests repeatedly.

And even if he might at times be more rickety than younger leaders, it bears repeating, and repeating again, that Biden is far saner and more responsible than Trump, who has his own share of major verbal slip-ups.

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