‘Absurd’: US attorney general defends not censoring special counsel on Biden memory

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 1:09 PM

By Andrew Goudsward

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday defended himself against White House and Democratic criticism that he should have stopped a special counsel from discussing President Joe Biden’s memory in a report on the president’s handling of classified documents.

Special Counsel Robert Hur wrote that Biden, 81, might appear to any jury as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” in report last month that explained the decision not to bring charges against him for holding onto classified documents after leaving the vice presidency.

“The idea that an attorney general would edit, or redact or censor the special counsel’s explanation for why the special counsel reached the decision the special counsel did – that’s absurd,” Garland told reporters at a press conference about a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against Apple.

Garland declined to say whether he thought Hur should have included an assessment of Biden’s memory, but noted that he committed to publicly releasing all reports by special counsels during his tenure.

Hur found some evidence that Biden willfully retained sensitive government records after ending his eight years as vice president in 2017, but opted not to bring charges.

The report ignited a political firestorm as it touched upon a core voter concern about the president’s memory as Biden seeks re-election. The White House and Democratic lawmakers blasted it as inappropriate from a prosecutor who declined to bring criminal charges.

The White House declined to comment on Garland’s remarks.

Donald Trump, the Republican candidate challenging Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election, has criticized the Justice Department for not charging Biden over the documents.

Trump faces a federal indictment from a different special counsel for retaining classified documents, including some involving sensitive national security matters, after leaving office in 2021. Hur noted that Trump refused to hand them over, while Biden cooperated with investigators.

Garland appointed Hur last year to lead an investigation after classified documents were found at Biden’s Delaware home and a former office in Washington. Special counsels, who are appointed to give sensitive investigations a degree of independence from the Justice Department leadership, typically release a report on their findings.

Asked about the blowback from the White House, Garland noted that when Biden nominated him as attorney general, the president committed to the Justice Department’s independence and said the attorney general should not be “the lawyer for the president.”

“I sincerely believe that that’s what he intended then, and I sincerely believe that’s what he intends now,” Garland said.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)