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Special counsel Hur gets hammered by lawmakers: 5 takeaways

Special counsel Hur gets hammered by lawmakers: 5 takeaways

Special counsel Robert Hur appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, where he defended and explained the findings of his investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified documents.

Hur fielded questions from lawmakers for roughly four hours and engaged in a few tense exchanges, particularly with Democrats who accused him of being partisan.

Here are five takeaways from Hur’s testimony.

Hur hammered from all sides

Special counsel Robert Hur
Special counsel Robert Hur

Special counsel Robert Hur testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss his investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified documents on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Allison Robbert)

Hur’s treatment of Biden spurred pushback from both sides of the aisle, with Republicans repeatedly suggesting he caved to pressure in not recommending charges against the president, while Democrats argued he violated prosecutorial norms with “gratuitous language” about his mental acuity.

In one of the hearing’s most fiery moments, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) unleashed on Hur for his description of Biden as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

“You could’ve written the report about his comments with specific recollection of a set of documents but you chose a general reference to the president. You understood when you made that decision, that you would ignite a political firestorm with that language, didn’t you?” said Schiff, who is facing a Senate contest this fall against Republican Steve Garvey after winning the California primary last week.

“What you did write was deeply prejudicial to the interests of the president,” Schiff said. “You say it was not political and yet, you must have understood — you must have understood — the impact of your words.”

Republicans said the disclosure raised questions about whether Hur pulled punches in his report on Biden, with others at times complaining of the treatment of former President Trump.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) accused Hur of setting a dangerous precedent by taking into account how potential jurors would perceive Biden.

“You find in your report that the elements of a federal criminal violation are met, but then you apply this senile cooperator theory, that because Joe Biden cooperated and the elevator didn’t go to the top floor, you didn’t think you could get a conviction,” Gaetz said.

Democrats, Hur spar over extent his report cleared Biden

Representative Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York and ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, second left, during a hearing in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. Justice Department special counsel Robert Hur is testifying on his report absolving US President Joe Biden of mishandling classified documents, and is likely to face harsh questions from members of both parties unhappy with the report. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Democrats blasted Hur for burying what they felt was the most important part of his report: that there was not sufficient evidence to bring charges against Biden.

“President Biden acted responsibly, cooperated completely, and the decision to decline criminal charges was relatively straightforward. In short, to borrow a phrase from the last administration, the Hur report represents the complete and total exoneration of President Biden,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the panel’s ranking member.

“Just to be clear, because so many people have taken your words out of context, the ultimate conclusion was that President Biden cannot be charged because you could not find sufficient evidence to charge him.”

Throughout the hearing, Democrats turned to the substantial analysis Hur offered about shortcomings in the evidence and why he did not believe he would be able to build a case, pointing to everything from the documents being stored amid “household detritus” in his garage to his cooperation in turning over the documents and sitting for an interview.

Hur at many points during the hearing agreed with characterizations of the case by Democrats, though he took issue with the repeated use of the word “exonerated.”

“I need to go back and make sure that I take note of a word that you used — ‘exoneration’ — that is not a word that appears in the report. That’s not part of my task as a prosecutor,” Hur said amid questioning from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).

“You exonerated him,” Jayapal said.

“We did not exonerate him. That word does not appear in the report,” Hur responded.

GOP capitalizes on Hur’s most critical passages 

Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) speaks as the House Judiciary Committee hears testimony from special counsel Robert Hur on his investigation into President Biden's handling of classified documents on March 12, 2024.
Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) speaks as the House Judiciary Committee hears testimony from special counsel Robert Hur on his investigation into President Biden's handling of classified documents on March 12, 2024.

Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler (N.Y.) speaks as the House Judiciary Committee hears testimony from special counsel Robert Hur on his investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified documents on March 12, 2024. (Greg Nash)

Republicans zeroed in on language from Hur’s report that cast Biden’s behavior in a more negative light.

“Did Joe Biden unlawfully retain classified information? The answer: Yes he did. Page 1 of the report says this,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said at the top of the hearing.

Hur appeared to agree with Gaetz as he reviewed statements from Biden press conferences on the documents. At one point, Hur described Biden’s characterization of how the documents were kept as “inconsistent” with his report.

Hur likewise agreed with several statements from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

“Did you reach a conclusion this man was outright innocent?” Issa asked.

“That conclusion is not reflected in my report, sir,” Hur responded.

“You did not reach an idea he committed no wrong. You reached a conclusion you would not prevail at trial and did not take it forward,” Issa asked later, prompting Hur to respond that was correct.

Hur defends his commentary on Biden’s memory 

Special counsel Robert Hur
Special counsel Robert Hur

Special counsel Robert Hur testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing to discuss his investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified documents on Tuesday, March 12, 2024. (Allison Robbert)

Hur argued in his opening statement and during exchanges with lawmakers on Tuesday that detailing Biden’s performance during their two-day interview was critical in justifying his conclusions not to bring charges.

“The need to show my work was especially strong here,” Hur said in his opening statement. “The attorney general had appointed me to investigate the actions of the attorney general’s boss, the sitting president of the United States. I knew that for my decision to be credible, I could not simply announce that I recommended no criminal charges and leave it at that. I needed to explain why.”

He pushed back at Schiff’s suggestions, asserting politics played no role in his approach.

“I could have written my report in a way that omitted references to the president’s memory but that would have been an incomplete and improper report,” he said.


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Hur also told Jordan there were numerous instances during his interactions with Biden that led him to believe the disclosure was the correct call.

“The totality of the time that I spent with the president during his voluntary interview was something that I certainly considered in framing my assessment and articulating it in the report,” Hur told lawmakers. “That includes not only the words in the cold record of the transcript of the interview, but also the experience of being there in the room with him and frankly considering how he would present to a jury in a criminal trial if charges were brought.”

transcript of the two-day interview was released hours before Hur testified. It showed Biden stumbling over certain dates and facts, but it also illustrated Biden cracking jokes with the special counsel and repeatedly saying he did not intend to take classified materials upon leaving office.

Trump documents case features prominently

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a Super Tuesday election night party, Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)

Multiple Democrats used their time to draw a contrast between the facts of the cases facing Biden and Trump, who is charged with 40 federal counts in Florida for his retention of classified materials.

From the outset of the hearing, the strategy was apparent. Nadler used his opening statement to make a distinction between Biden’s cooperation with Hur’s probe and Trump’s refusal to turn over classified materials to the National Archives after leaving the White House.

Nadler said Trump was not charged because of “some vast conspiracy,” but because he was “fundamentally incapable of taking advantage of even one of the many, many chances he was given to avoid those charges.”

“What kind of man bungles not one but dozens of opportunities to avoid criminal liability? What does that say about his mental state? Here, too, the record speaks for itself,” he said, adding later that Trump should “think twice before accusing others of cognitive decline.”

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) asked Hur point by point if Biden directed his lawyer to lie for him, directed assistants to move boxes of classified materials, deleted security camera footage or showed a classified map to a campaign aide, all of which Trump is accused of doing.

Hur, for his part, said he would not weigh in on specifics about Trump’s case or about special counsel Jack Smith. But Hur’s own report acknowledged clear differences between Biden’s cooperation with his office and Trump’s refusal to cooperate.

“It is not our role to assess the criminal charges pending against Mr. Trump, but several material distinctions between Mr. Trump’s case and Mr. Biden’s are clear,” Hur wrote in his report.

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