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6 Takeaways From Biden’s Testimony on Classified Documents

Photo: White House Flickr Stream

By Tyler O'Neil, The Daily Signal | March 12, 2024

Special counsel Robert Hur released a report last month recommending against charging President Joe Biden for the mishandling of classified documents from his years as vice president and senator, in part because a jury would find Biden sympathetic as an “elderly man with a poor memory” and because his “diminished faculties” make it less likely he intentionally violated the law.

The Daily Signal has obtained the transcript from Biden’s interviews with special counsel Hur on Oct. 8 and 9, the interviews on which Hur based his report. The transcripts reveal that Biden forgot when he was vice president, when his son Beau died, and even details from an interview a few hours after they happened.

Here are six key takeaways from the transcript.

1. Biden Appears Not to Understand Document Classification

Throughout the Oct. 8 interview, Biden seemed to misunderstand different types of classified information. In fact, one of his attorneys, Bob Bauer, explicitly stated that Biden relied on staff to handle classified information.

“I would like to avoid having the president address the legal requirements for classification,” Bauer said. “I think it’s clear he’s relied on staff for that.”

Biden appeared not to know that materials marked “Eyes Only” are classified.

“In your understanding, if something is marked ‘Eyes Only,’ does that mean that it’s being treated as classified, or does it not mean that?” Marc Krickbaum, Hur’s deputy special counsel, asked Biden.

“The answer is, I’m not sure,” the president responded.

“I had real strong disagreements on a couple of policy matters that were consequential relating to the allocation of forces” in Afghanistan, Biden explained. “So, there were some really bright guys in the administration who I strongly disagreed with on something. So, it might say, ‘Eyes Only,’ like, ‘Joe, this is what you asked for.'”

Biden drew a distinction between documents marked “Eyes Only” and “Secret,” and documents he considered classified.

“If they’re marked ‘Classified,’ one of those things with circles around it and clearly it’s a classified document, not something that’s ‘Eyes Only’ or ‘Secret’ or ‘Selective’ or whatever the hell it is, other than saying, ‘Top Secret,’ it would not be in here,” the president said.

In the Oct. 9 deposition, Krickbaum asked Biden about a document marked “Confidential.”

“Do you recognize that to be a classification marking?” he asked.

“No,” Biden said. “I mean, confidential, doesn’t want to get around. It’ s not in a category, I don’t think, of code word, ‘Top Secret,’ that kind of thing.”

Hur and Krickbaum brought up many classified documents, most notably a memo Biden wrote to then-President Barack Obama in 2009 about Afghanistan, and Biden seemed either not to know that the documents had been in his possession or that they were classified.

2. Forgetting Key Details

Hur asked Biden about his move from the Naval Observatory, the home of the vice president, to an address on Chain Bridge Road in McLean, Virginia. Biden recalled the correct year—asking, “This is, what, 2017, 2018, that area?”—but he associated the year with different events from two years prior.

“Remember, in this timeframe, my son is—either been deployed or is dying, and so it was—and by the way, there were still a lot of people at the time when I got out of the Senate that were encouraging me to run in this period, except the president,” Biden said. He continued until asking, “What month did [Biden’s son] Beau die? Oh, God, May 30th …”

Rachel Cotton, from the White House Counsel’s Office, reminded the president that his son died in 2015.

“Was it 2015 he had died?” Biden asked. An unidentified speaker confirmed it had been May 2015.

“Trump gets elected in November of 2017?” Biden continued. Someone corrected him, saying “2016.”

“2016, all right,” Biden said. “So—why do I have 2017 here?”

During another round of questioning, Biden asked, “Well, if it was 2013—when did I stop being vice president?” Cotton reminded him, “2017.”

Biden also appeared to forget details from his conversation with Hur mere hours after they had happened.

About an hour into his Oct. 8 interview, Biden mentioned “two file cabinets that were attractive that I had when I was in either the home—I bought furniture for the home on Chain Bridge Road.”

Yet, after Biden took a break, Hur returned to the topic, and the president seemed not to recall ever mentioning the filing cabinets.

“I think before we took the break, if I remember correctly, you had mentioned some specific pieces of furniture,” Hur noted. “I think you mentioned a couple of file cabinets that I think you said you purchased in order to place them into the Chain Bridge Road residence.”

“Purchased—that I purchased—I don’t remember having any—brought any—I may have,” Biden responded. “Actually, I’m not sure.” He then asked for a photo to jog his memory about which house they had been discussing.

3. ‘Stuff on the Garage Floor’

Biden’s testimony about the classified documents in the garage of his private home in Wilmington, Delaware, appears to conflict with his lawyers’ official narrative that his lawyers, rather than Biden himself, first discovered the classified materials in his garage. Biden’s lawyers reported discovering classified documents there in November 2022, and returning them to the National Archives and Records Administration.

When Hur asked Biden about moving out of the Naval Observatory, Biden suddenly brought up the garage, and described what sounded like a personal recollection of discovering documents in the garage.

“Is that how the stuff got in my—didn’t get in my garage until much later,” he said, unprompted. “There was stuff one day. I came home, and all of it was on the garage floor. This was later though. It must have been after—anyway.”

Later on, Biden described “a lot of stuff they gathered up, and they just took up and dropped in my driveway like this, and some of them little skinny boxes, some open boxes, some but just everything piled up. I remember walking in one day.”

Hur presented photographs of classified materials that had been discovered in the garage.

“I don’t remember how a beat-up box got in the garage,” Biden said.

4. Long-Winded Yarns as Stall Tactic

Biden repeatedly launched into long discussions about Beau and his younger son, Hunter; his views about foreign policy and his general approach to politics; his history as a young lawyer; and other topics in an apparent attempt to avoid answering questions that might get him into legal trouble.

He described his reasons for keeping files related to an old Corvette, and mentioned his disagreements with others in the Obama administration about Afghanistan.

At one point, Hur interrupted the president in order to move on to a topic pertinent to the investigation.

“Mr. President, I am so sorry to interrupt you,” Hur said. “I just want to make sure—I have a fair amount of material … .”

“Yeah, I’m going to stop,” Biden replied.

In another instance, Biden apologized, saying, “Sorry for the detail.”

5. Did Not Know Location of Classified Documents

Biden admitted that he would put classified documents into his notebooks after briefings, and that his staff would compile his notebooks without knowing where the classified documents were.

“Staff doesn’t know I put anything in the book when coming in,” he said. “But if they did anything at the time, they took that whole book, put it in a drawer in my desk to get it out of the way, and never went into the book to see what was in there.”

Krickbaum, Hur’s deputy, asked Biden directly, “If there were marked classified documents stuffed in those notebooks, you were not aware of it?”

“Correct,” Biden said.

“Do you know where your notebooks were in the time period immediately after your term as vice president?” Krickbaum asked on Oct. 9.

“No, but I think that what they did, they gathered up my notebooks, and I think they were in drawers in this room,” the president said, referring to a room in the Chain Bridge Road residence.

6. Claiming He Didn’t Remember

Biden repeatedly claimed that he didn’t remember certain details about his past and his retention of classified documents. He may have adopted this strategy in order to avoid perjuring himself, but it also gave him the appearance of not intending any ill will in keeping classified documents from the National Archives.

On Oct. 9, Krickbaum, Hur’s deputy, pressed Biden on a February 2017 meeting with a ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer.

“In the course of explaining that memo about Afghanistan, you said to Mark, ‘I just found all the classified stuff downstairs,'” Krickbaum said, referring to Zwonitzer. “And so, you can imagine, we are curious what you meant when you said, ‘I just found all the classified stuff downstairs.'”

“I don’t remember, and I’m not supposed to speculate, right?” Biden replied.

Bauer, the president’s lawyer, replied, “Correct.”

Krickbaum pressed Biden on why he told Zwonitzer this, and the president repeatedly stated that he did not remember: He didn’t remember saying that, and he did not remember finding classified materials.

Biden also admitted that he found a paper with a red classified marking on it after his vice presidency, and he gave it to a staffer, telling the staffer to return it to the National Archives. Yet, even for this incident, Biden admitted, “I just remember being told that.”

In July, a jury in Miami, Florida, indicted former President Donald Trump for allegedly mishandling classified documents and obstructing justice in the investigation regarding those documents.

Tyler O'Neil is managing editor of The Daily Signal and the author of "Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center."

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