Legal Exoneration, Political Nightmare

The decision on Thursday not to file criminal charges against President Biden for mishandling classified documents should have been an unequivocal legal exoneration.

Instead, it was a political nightmare.

The investigation into Mr. Biden’s handling of the documents after being vice president called him a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and described interviews in which he could not recall when he served as vice president, what year his son died or whom he agreed with during policy debates.

The memory of the then-80-year-old president was so hazy during five hours of interviews with the F.B.I. investigators over two days, according to the report by Robert K. Hur, the special counsel, that it would be difficult to convince jurors that Mr. Biden knew his handling of the documents was wrong. Mr. Hur predicted in the report that if the president were charged, his lawyers “would emphasize these limitations in his recall.”

In part because of Mr. Biden’s memory, Mr. Hur declined to recommend charging the president for what the report described as willful retention of national security secrets, including some documents shared by the president that implicated “sensitive intelligence sources and methods.”

“It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him — by then a former president well into his 80s — of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness,” Mr. Hur wrote.

In his own statement, Mr. Biden appeared to suggest a reason for why he was distracted.

“I was so determined to give the special counsel what they needed that I went forward with five hours of in-person interviews over two days on Oct. 8 and 9 of last year, even though Israel had just been attacked on Oct. 7 and I was in the middle of handling an international crisis,” he wrote. “I just believed that’s what I owed the American people.”

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