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Special Counsel Who Investigated Biden Offers Fierce Defense of Report

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Special Counsel Who Investigated Biden Offers Fierce Defense of Report

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Robert K. Hur, the special counsel who investigated President Biden, on Tuesday fiercely defended the disparaging assessment of the president’s mental state included in his final report — and his decision not to charge Mr. Biden with a crime.

Mr. Hur, appearing before the House Judiciary Committee to answer questions about his polarizing 345-page report, cast himself as an impartial arbiter. He said he had expressed concerns about Mr. Biden’s memory because he needed to justify not bringing a case against Mr. Biden after some evidence showed that the president had willfully retained sensitive material from his vice presidency.

“I resolved to do the work as I did all my work for the department: fairly, thoroughly and professionally,” he said in his opening statement.

Mr. Hur, a registered Republican who has been slammed by Mr. Biden’s allies for including his politically damaging assessment of Mr. Biden’s memory, showed little emotion during the hearing, but reacted angrily when a Democrat suggested he had “smeared” the president to bolster Mr. Trump.

“Partisan politics played no part whatsoever in my work,” said Mr. Hur, 51, a former Trump Justice Department official whose appointment was lauded by some Democrats who praised his work as a prosecutor in Maryland.

About an hour before Mr. Hur testified, Democrats on the congressional panel released a lightly redacted transcript of the five-hour interview Mr. Hur and his team conducted with Mr. Biden. It offered a more nuanced portrayal than the special counsel’s damning description of the 81-year-old president as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

While the 258-page transcript showed that on several occasions the president fumbled with dates and the sequence of events, he otherwise appeared clearheaded, with the kind of gaps in recollection not uncommon among people interviewed about events that transpired years earlier. But Mr. Biden did have difficulty recalling specific dates, most strikingly when he fumbled in remembering the day his son Beau — who succumbed to cancer in 2015 — died.

On Tuesday, it was Mr. Hur’s turn to answer tough questions.

For more than four enervating hours, he sat at the witness table as alternating Democrats and Republicans pelted him with angry questions, pausing only to berate one another, or to deliver high-volume partisan speeches as Mr. Hur perched on the edge of his chair.

The political dynamics of the hearing were basic, brutal and binary: Democrats defended Mr. Biden, a candidate many Americans see as too old, while Republicans tried to shore up Mr. Trump, trying to minimize his indictment over the summer on charges he illegally retained documents and obstructed investigators.

The stakes of Tuesday’s hearing were high even as Mr. Biden gave a fiery defense of his presidency during his State of the Union speech last week that seemed to address some of the concerns about age and mental fitness raised by the special counsel.

Mr. Hur, who began by saying he would not comment beyond the contents of the report, offered little succor to either side.

He repeatedly refused to accept the Republican argument that Mr. Biden’s actions were comparable to the indictment against Mr. Trump in the Florida documents case. His report pointed to “several material distinctions,” including that Mr. Biden cooperated with the investigation into his handling of classified documents whereas Mr. Trump repeatedly resisted requests to return material from his time in office.

But Mr. Hur made a point of rejecting a suggestion by Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington, that he had exonerated Mr. Biden, and he did little to mask his disapproval of Mr. Biden’s handling of sensitive materials that were found in several unsecured locations, including his garage in Delaware.

“I did not exonerate him; that word does not appear in the report,” Mr. Hur said, a line that is likely to be seized upon by Mr. Trump and his supporters in the coming weeks.

Democrats kicked off the hearing by playing a highlight reel of Mr. Trump’s own verbal miscues and memory lapses — and included a clip in which he said he did not remember saying he had a great memory.

Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland , accused Republicans of focusing on Mr. Biden’s mental fitness, instead of Mr. Trump’s praise for authoritarian leaders and recent meeting with Victor Orban, the far-right leader of Hungary.

“It’s not a memory test for President Biden,” he said. “It’s a memory test for all of America. Do we remember fascism? Do we remember Nazism? Communism and totalitarianism?”

But Mr. Hur did not back down from the report’s characterization of the president.

When Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, accused Mr. Hur of choosing “a general pejorative” to describe Mr. Biden’s mental state, Mr. Hur shot back by saying he would not “shape” and “sanitize” his report for political purposes.

“You cannot tell me you are so naïve as to think your words would not have created a political firestorm,” said Mr. Schiff, one of the managers of Mr. Trump’s first impeachment. “You understood how they would be manipulated.”

Mr. Hur did not challenge a claim by Representative Jim Jordan, the Ohio Republican who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee, that Mr. Biden had retained the documents to profit from a memoir he wrote after leaving office in 2017. In fact, the special counsel said he agreed with that “assessment.”

Yet he repeatedly refused to endorse Republican assertions that Mr. Biden would have been charged with a crime had he been able to remember his actions — and rejected their claims that his mishandling of documents was comparable to Mr. Trump’s.

When a Republican committee member asked Mr. Hur if his decision not to prosecute Mr. Biden created a new paradigm that made it acceptable to take “secrets” home, he dryly replied, “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

Mr. Hur said that Mr. Garland, who has come under intense fire for picking him, did not pressure him to make changes to his report or request any changes.

Mr. Hur gave his testimony as a private citizen, not an employee of the Justice Department. As of Monday, he had resigned as special counsel and will be represented by a private lawyer, William A. Burck, according to a department spokesman, who did not explain Mr. Hur’s reason for doing so.

Mr. Burck, a former deputy counsel in the White House under George W. Bush who has deep networks in Republican Washington, sat behind Mr. Hur at the hearing.

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