A Corvette, Swimsuit Shots and a Trip to Mongolia: Biden Offers a Tour of His Life

They were there to talk about classified documents, but somehow President Biden’s mind had turned to Mongolia.

Something about being handed a bow and arrow during a visit and embarrassing his host. “Pure luck, I hit the goddamn target,” Mr. Biden recalled. Not so much the Mongolian leader. “The poor son of a bitch couldn’t pull it back. I was like, oh God.”

He has a large storehouse of stories, this president, and he shared them freely during interviews with prosecutors last fall. Mr. Biden described giving an oration in law school on a case he had not read and lying his way into an exclusive club in Delaware. He recounted his time with President Barack Obama and trying to “save his ass” from manipulative generals. He boasted of building a solar facility in Angola.

What any of that had to do with Mr. Biden’s handling of secret papers was not always clear, but transcripts of his five hours with the special counsel Robert K. Hur released this week opened a window into a president not often seen by the public lately. He was funny and folksy, chatty and charming, quick and quirky. In a sometimes meandering stream of consciousness, he took prosecutors on a colorful tour of his life with the occasional disquisition on the history of the Gutenberg printing press and Richard M. Nixon’s 1960 election defeat.

Of most importance to investigators, Mr. Biden was maddeningly imprecise about the government documents that ended up in his homes and offices where they did not belong. “I don’t remember how a beat-up box got in the garage,” he said. All told, he offered variations of “I don’t remember” or “I don’t recall” more than 50 times.

And there were other things he could not recall — what a fax machine is called, the name of a former cabinet colleague, the agency that preserves official papers. Discussing negotiations with a challenging nation, he named Afghanistan, then corrected himself to say that he meant Iraq only to have one of his lawyers tell him he was actually referring to Iran.

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