The Hur Report and Beau Biden

A new report puts the conversation in a different light.

NBC News EXCLUSIVE: “Biden attacked Hur for asking him when Beau died. That didn’t happen, sources say.

President Joe Biden lashed out at Robert Hur last week over one particular line in the special counsel’s report on his handling of classified documents: that Biden “did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died.”

“How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden told reporters in an impromptu White House press conference. “Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn’t any of their damn business.”

But Hur never asked that question, according to two people familiar with Hur’s five-hour interview with the president over two days last October. It was the president, not Hur or his team, who first introduced Beau Biden’s death, they said.

Biden raised his son’s death after being asked about his workflow at a Virginia rental home from 2016 to 2018, the sources said, when a ghost writer was helping him write a memoir about losing Beau to brain cancer in 2015. Investigators had a 2017 recording showing that Biden had told the ghost writer he had found “classified stuff” in that home, the report says.

Biden began trying to recall that period by discussing what else was happening in his life, and it was at that point in the interview that he appeared confused about when Beau died, the sources said. Biden got the date — May 30 — correct, but not the year.

Hur’s 345-page report absolved Biden of criminal wrongdoing while pointing to evidence that he took home and kept highly classified material. Even though Biden was found to have disclosed classified information to the ghost writer on three occasions, prosecutors concluded that they could not prove that the president knew it was classified information at the time.

Fiery criticism of the report from Biden supporters, though, has focused on Hur’s characterizations of  the president’s memory. They say the report was filled with gratuitous details about Biden’s memory issues, including that the president misremembered the year Beau died. They have also seized on Biden’s statement that the special counsel asked him about the date of Beau’s death.

“Why in the hell are you asking that question?” former Attorney General Eric Holder, a Democrat, said Monday on MSNBC, suggesting that Hur was “a rube, perhaps,” who had “shaded” what he put in the report. “What does that have to do with the retention of classified documents?”

First lady Jill Biden questioned in a fundraising letter whether Hur was using “our son’s death to score political points.”

Sources familiar with Biden’s view of the interview say Hur induced the president to bring up his son by asking a series of personal questions related to Beau. They included questions about Biden’s memoir, “Promise Me, Dad,” in which he writes about his son’s battle with cancer and death in 2015. Hur also asked about Biden’s work for the Biden Cancer Initiative, founded in Beau’s memory.

These sources did not dispute that it was Biden, not Hur, who first mentioned a date for Beau’s death. But they said Biden felt betrayed by the comments in Hur’s report about his memory and mental state. During the interview, Hur asked him to recall events years in the past as best he could, and Biden agreed to speak freely and expansively, rather than in the clipped and careful manner of a typical witness.

Exactly what Biden said about his son’s death and other issues may ultimately become public. The two-day interview was audio-recorded and transcribed, and congressional committees are expected to push for its release.

That sheds a different light on the situation. I think it’s still reasonable for Biden to be angry that the report gave the impression that he doesn’t remember when his son died. But the context here makes Hur’s inclusion of that factoid more obviously relevant: the whole conversation revolved around disclosures of classified material—the subject under investigation—to the ghostwriter, who was presumably neither cleared to receive such material nor possessed of a need to know.

As Steven and I have both noted—and several regular commenters have corroborated—it’s frankly not that unusual for even someone considerably younger than Biden to get mixed up on dates on occasion. But Hur was clearly trying to depict a pattern of such lapses.

Many have pointed to partisan motivations for this, and that’s certainly a reasonable possibility. Hur’s defenders offer a different one:

Two people who know Hur well said that he had set out to write a balanced and thorough narrative that would explain why, despite significant evidence, he had concluded that no criminal charges would be warranted for Biden. Over the course of a yearlong investigation, Hur’s team examined 7 million documents and spoke with 147 witnesses, according to his report.  

Associates of Hur say that Biden‘s claim that the special counsel quizzed the president, unprompted, about his son’s death from cancer is an effort to take the focus off the special counsel’s findings regarding how Biden handled classified documents and his struggle to recall certain facts.

The line of questioning about the memoir was directly relevant to the central issue of the investigation, the people familiar with the interview said. Hur’s team had learned that Biden was recorded in 2017 telling the ghost writer that he “found all the classified stuff downstairs,” at the Virginia rental home where the two were working on the book.

In the interview, Biden told Hur that he didn’t remember saying in 2017 that he had found classified documents in the home.

Hur’s investigation determined that the documents Biden mentioned in 2017 were never turned over to the FBI and, in fact, were likely the same ones found in Biden’s Delaware garage in 2022.

Biden’s struggle to recall the period when he worked with the ghost writer were among several exchanges during the two-day interview where he appeared to forget important facts, according to the report. Hur’s report also states that Biden’s memory appeared to be significantly limited in the 30 hours of recorded interviews he conducted with the ghost writer in 2017.

Hur stated that those memory lapses were one reason he concluded that it would be difficult to convince a jury to convict Biden of intentionally mishandling classified information.

Comparisons with former FBI Director James Comey’s damning remarks when he declined to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have rightly been made. The focus has been on the divergence from DOJ protocol and the damaging effect that they had on Democratic presidential candidates.

But it’s also true that both Comey and Hurr had pressure in the opposite direction. The failure to prosecute high-level officials for violations that would land underlings in serious legal jeopardy is, after all, fraught.

But Hur has come under criticism for his descriptions of what he viewed as Biden’s “diminished facilities.” Holder said on X that there were too many “gratuitous remarks” in Hur’s report that were “flatly inconsistent with long standing DOJ traditions.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland has also been criticized by Democrats for releasing the full, unredacted version of the report. Special counsel rules require them to write confidential reports to the attorney general detailing and explaining their decisions on whether to file criminal charges in a case.

In an effort at transparency, Garland has pledged to make all special counsel reports public, consistent with the Justice Department track record of releasing most special counsel reports since the office came into being in 1999.

William Barr, who was attorney general in the Trump administration, was harshly criticized for initially releasing his own two-page summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report in 2018. Several weeks later, Barr released the full document.

People familiar with the matter say Garland first saw Hur’s report Feb. 5, three days before its release. Had the attorney general ordered any changes, he would have had to disclose those to Congress, as required by the special counsel regulations.  

In a letter to Congress when he released the report, Garland said that he took no action to block any investigative steps by Hur, because nothing the special counsel did was “so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”

I both understand why Democrats are furious at Garland’s decision and why he would make it. Again, it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation. Had he followed Barr’s lead and issued a redacted report, the news cycle immediately afterward would have been considerably more favorable to Biden. But Congressional Republicans would have made the full report public and then, not only would Hur’s observations about Biden’s mental state gone viral, anyway, but DOJ’s reputation as a nonpartisan actor would have taken another hit.

NBC News legal contributor Chuck Rosenberg says it’s fair to question some of the language Hur used about Biden’s memory in his report, but not his decision to explore and explain Biden’s memory issues.

“If Hur was going to tell the attorney general that he declined to prosecute President Biden, then I believe he was also obligated to explain his rationale,” Rosenberg wrote for the website Lawfare

“Would Biden come across as forgetful? As sympathetic? As willful? As dissembling? As honest? These are crucial determinations prosecutors make all the time about witnesses and defendants,” he added. “Indeed, I cannot imagine writing a report to the attorney general and not including these assessments.”

People who know Hur say he did not anticipate how his descriptions of the president’s memory would resonate across the political landscape. They say he believed that when his report was released, he would likely come under immediate attack from Republicans who would accuse him of going soft on Biden.

Instead, one line in Hur’s 345-page report will likely live on in American presidential and political history: the special counsel’s assessment that Biden would come across to jurors as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” 

Again, shades of Comey.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Color me skeptical. Sounds like damage control. Short of a transcript w/ video, we’ll never really know and shouldn’t lend any credence one way or the other.

    I have had way too many experiences of listening to someone relate a conversation they had with me while I had an entirely different recollection. They weren’t lying and neither was I, our brains just emphasized our memories in different ways.

  2. wr says:

    “People who know Hur say he did not anticipate how his descriptions of the president’s memory would resonate across the political landscape”

    Even in these MAGA days, that has to be the biggest piece of ass-covering bullshit I’ve ever seen.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    James, this constant bending over backwards to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt is ridiculous. The reality is that Hur found no evidence, NONE, that Biden had deliberately withheld these documents. He chose to lead off with a bunch of bull about how he didn’t bring charges because of sympathetic jury, blah, blah, blah but then later goes on to demonstrate in excruciating detail that their was simply no evidence, no reason to charge him regardless of who it was. By burying literally the most important conclusion on something like page 200 of a 400 page document he demonstrated a keen political awareness, belying his hand flapping protestations that he is but a political naif. He’s a hack, he used his office and appointment to take a hit at what he considered a political opponent, and he will be well rewarded for it by the billionaires boys club. He did exactly what the Federalist Society expects and will be given a prestigious judgeship when the next Republican President is elected.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: He was appointed by Merrick Garland, who President Obama thought highly enough of to nominate to the Supreme Court and President Biden thought highly enough of to appoint Attorney General. We don’t get to make his hand-chosen prosecutor a hack retrospectively.

  5. @wr: Indeed. If that is an accurate assessment, then Hur is not very bright (to the point of being an utterly incredulous notion–like, how does he do his job if he is that dim?).

  6. @James Joyner: At a bare minimum, the sentence about an elderly gentleman with a poor memory was hackery. There is simply no way he didn’t know what he was doing.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @James Joyner: Until he was appointed I’d never heard of him, and had no take on him one way or the other. People make mistakes, and it’s become obvious that Hur is one of Garland’s. That’s not making his hand-chosen prosecutor a hack retrospectively, it’s looking at his unprofessional actions and reading them for what they are. To do otherwise is derelict.

  8. Mikey says:

    Hur certainly deserves some criticism for how he depicted Biden in the report, but it’s the lying Republicans who have distorted Hur’s work to the point of intentional falsehood.

    Republicans Are Lying About a Special Counsel Report, Again

    REPUBLICANS HAVE LAUNCHED a propaganda campaign to deceive the public about Special Counsel Robert Hur. Specifically, they’re claiming that Hur found President Joe Biden cognitively unfit to stand trial for unlawfully retaining classified documents. This is a lie, and Republicans are using the lie to bolster their contention that Biden should be removed from office under the Twenty-fifth Amendment or defeated in this year’s presidential election.

    Hur was specifying how he thought Biden would present himself to a jury if put on trial, which completely destroys the GOP lie that Hur said Biden was cognitively unfit to stand trial.

    If Hur thought Biden was unfit to stand trial, he wouldn’t be talking about a jury at all. You don’t get a jury unless you’re being tried.

    In the sections of the report that address Biden’s memory problems, Hur’s focus is explicit and narrow. He depicts a scenario in which Biden is already being tried, and the jury is evaluating whether Biden retained classified documents “willfully . . . as the statute requires.” In the report’s most notorious passage—the one in which Hur says Biden “would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”—Hur concludes that this presentation by Biden would make it “difficult to convince a jury” that Biden had the requisite “mental state of willfulness.”

    That’s it. That’s the only context in which Hur suggests that Biden’s bouts of forgetfulness would matter.

    Hur should go public and make clear what he meant:

    Hur, like Mueller, certainly doesn’t want to get into a political fight over how to interpret his report. And he shouldn’t have to. But he does have to correct the black-and-white lie that he made a specific legal judgment. He said nothing about Biden’s competence to stand trial. And he should make that clear.

    Unfortunately, this seems unlikely, and the GOP will be allowed to run with their blatant lie all the way to the election.

  9. The Q says:

    File this (Hur is honorable) under GOP wishful thinking like: “Don’t worry, when Trump assumes office he will stop the juvenile insults and wild Twitter rants.”

    Or: “No way will SCOTUS overturn Roe, they swore under oath to Congress the importance of stare decisis and Roe being established law.”

  10. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    We don’t get to make his hand-chosen prosecutor a hack retrospectively.

    Of course we do. Beforehand, we can estimate the likelihood he is a hack by his credentials. But that’s only an estimate. He demonstrates whether he is a hack by his actual behavior. And his behavior makes it clear: he is a hack.

  11. Paul L. says:


    The reality is that Hur found no evidence, NONE, that Biden had deliberately withheld these documents.

    The reality is that Hur found no evidence, NONE, that Biden had deliberately stole and retained classified documents that he had no authority to possess.
    Tristan Snell used the talking point that only a few classified documents were found and returned by Biden.
    “The FBI searched Biden’s home and found more classified documents”
    Biden stole and hid classified documents in his garage next to his Corvette as a dead drop for Hunter.

  12. steve says:

    Read the report. He front loads the statement that he found evidence that Biden willfully took documents. However, throughout the rest of the report he notes there is evidence that he did not take documents willfully and he concludes by saying that the evidence is conflicting and not strong enough to bring charges. Te hackery lies in how he presented that. He could have easily, and more accurately, written that Biden would make a sympathetic witness and since neither he, nor most of the people he interviewed, remembered exactly how the documents got into his home it would make it even harder to prosecute.


  13. KM says:


    Hur was specifying how he thought Biden would present himself to a jury if put on trial,

    And it’s still gross personal defamation that reeks of bias POV since EVERYONE plays the “IDK don’t remember card” on the stand, especially in politics. Don’t get me wrong – the GOP can distort the most innocent of things into baby-eating evil. Hur however decided to tack on the “old man” part to an extremely common legal tactic because in his mind, that was relevant for some reason. Not “I don’t remember” but “I don’t remember cuz I’m old and feeble” right before an election where that framing is constantly and consistently being pushed by his own party,

    OF COURSE the GOP took the ball he gave them and ran with it. They’d be stupid not too as it’s perfect (intentional or not) for their ongoing narrative. Frankly he’s stupid if he legit didn’t mean it that way and didn’t think what he said would get caught up in right wing circle. I cannot give him the benefit of the doubt here in that even his musings about “presentation to a jury” are framed in the derogatory terms being cast about and then put aloud for endless soundbites.

  14. Kurtz says:

    @Paul L.:

    Biden stole and hid classified documents in his garage next to his Corvette as a dead drop for Hunter.

    Enemy of the State was not a documentary, dude.

  15. Matt Bernius says:

    One challenge some opponents of the President may find with relying too much on the report (or portraying Hur as “their ally*”) is that Hur himself polks rather large holes in the entire “there is no difference between what Biden did and what Trump did).

    From pages 10 & 11 of the Hur report:

    It is not our role to assess the criminal charges pending against Mr. Trump, but several material distinctions between Mr. Trump’s case and Mr. Biden’s are clear. Unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden, the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would present serious aggravating facts.

    Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite. According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it. In contrast, Mr. Eiden turned in classified documents to the National Archives and the Department of Justice, consented to the search of multiple locations including his homes, sat for a voluntary interview. and in other ways cooperated with the investigation.


    * This reminds us of Paul L.’s regular assertion that as a rule, prosecutors are not your friend (especially when you may be prosecuted). While I know a number of prosecutors to varying degrees and like all of them, from a pure legal standpoint I mostly agree.

    This also gets to something this reporting reveals: under Popehat rules–and I am sure that this week’s Serious Trouble will dig in on this–Biden is NOT a good client. From the reporting above:

    These sources did not dispute that it was Biden, not Hur, who first mentioned a date for Beau’s death. But they said Biden felt betrayed by the comments in Hur’s report about his memory and mental state. During the interview, Hur asked him to recall events years in the past as best he could, and Biden agreed to speak freely and expansively, rather than in the clipped and careful manner of a typical witness.

    That loud smacking sound you hear are the reactions of most defense lawyers reading this. Speaking freely and expansively, especially to the FBI is something you should not do. I have to assume that Biden had his lawyer with him during this (I pity that poor person’s BP level). He he did this without counsel, then that’s even worse (still not Trump as a client bad, but really dumb).

    Never speak to law enforcement without your lawyer present. And even if your lawyer is present, don’t “speak freely and expansively.” I know we all think we’re the smartest people in the room. Trust me, that’s exactly the people they hope to interview.

  16. Mikey says:

    @KM: Hey, I’m not trying to defend Hur, just pointing out where what he actually wrote in the report does not at all support what the GOP lying liars have been saying.

    Hur, had he the integrity a federal prosecutor should have, would be getting out in front of a bunch of microphones and stating clearly that he never meant or said Biden is too cognitively impaired to stand trial. Instead, he is allowing the lie to propagate.

  17. Scott says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution

    Can I just add that this is not just about classified documents. The National Archives asked for the government property (in the form of documents, classified or not) to be returned. Trump returned some and certified that that he had no more government property. At that point, he became a common thief.

  18. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Paul L.: “Biden stole and hid classified documents in his garage next to his Corvette as a dead drop for Hunter.”

    So, how is it that Hunter never came by to get them during the next 5 years?

  19. Paul L. says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    Hunter Biden never came by his Father who loves him unconditionally home for 5 years?
    Are you sure you can back that statement up? Where is that referenced by the DOJ? Are you trying to gaslight me?
    Just like his Laptop and Colt Cobra 38SPL Revolver, Hunter was not able to keep track of his stuff.

  20. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Matt Bernius: I know we all think we’re the smartest people in the room.

    Not me, I’m an idiot and I don’t lie to myself about it.

  21. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.: Hunter surely stopped by to see the father that unconditionally loved him, but didn’t seem to have picked up the documents.

    And, would we not expect old Joe to fix his son some cocoa, and remind him to pick up some classified documents on his way out the door?

  22. Daryl says:

    Again, shades of Comey.

    And Ken Starr, and Durham.

  23. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher: @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    And doesn’t this highlight the utter stupidity of JKB’s claim? The point of a dead drop is to exchange material between two agents without risk of being seen together. The Bidens have no reason to avoid meeting face to face.

  24. al Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    Biden stole and hid classified documents in his garage next to his Corvette as a dead drop for Hunter.

    Actually, I’ve heard that Hunter would come by Joe’s garage and fetch from the trunk of the Corvette 2 suitcases of Fentanyl, then he would then drive down to Brownsville near the Texas border, he would then pay to have the suitcases taken across the border to Matamoros, finally a couple of migrants would be paid to bring the Fentanyl into the United States.

    Incredible, right?
    I mean, you can’t make this stuff up.
    Oh wait. Yes, yes you can.

  25. anjin-san says:

    @Paul L.:

    his Corvette

    Don’t go hating on Biden because he has a cooler car than you…

  26. anjin-san says:

    @al Ameda:

    Joe’s garage

    Did they jam in Joe’s garage?

  27. anjin-san says:

    @James Joyner:

    He was appointed by Merrick Garland

    So Garland appointing a hack is an impossibility?

  28. al Ameda says:

    Yes. they did ‘China Cat Sunflower’, ‘Shakedown Street, and ‘Deal.’
    They closed with ‘Little Red Corvette.”

  29. Kathy says:

    Doesn’t everyone who’s read two pages of a spy novel knows you don’t set up a dead drop at your own effing home?

    You may as well put up a neon sign saying “SECRET LAIR”

  30. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Paul L.:

    Hunter was not able to keep track of his stuff

    If he picked up the files, why were they there for Biden to give back last year? I was never saying he didn’t visit dad, just that he didn’t pick up the files at the drop. Two different things.

    ETA: @Gustopher: Good point! Hadn’t added that to my thinking. My info drop pickup skills are rusty. 🙁

    @Kurtz: This one was Paul L . Easy mistake to make, tho.

  31. anjin-san says:

    @al Ameda:

    I’m sure “Do you want to know a secret?” was on the setlist as well. Joe was playing a Stratocaster with a whammy bar…

  32. Gustopher says:

    What if the documents by the corvette were decoy documents, while the real stash of important classified documents were elsewhere?

    The best way to hide your evil wrongdoing is behind a minor wrongdoing where you are apparently cooperating. I’m betting the real classified documents are stashed where we would never think to look … The White House!

  33. Chris says:

    If the prosecutor doesn’t have a case, then they should not editorialize things unrelated to the guilt or innocence of the party in question. In other words, if they have a case, then make it. If they can’t make a case, then it is certainly not the job of the government to smear that person. It’s simply unethical conduct and actually against DOJ policy. Hur should face a DOJ investigation and hope he is treated better than he gave.

  34. Paul L. says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    You can prove the classified documents hidden in Biden’s garage next to his Corvette were there for 5 years and not part of a timed dropoff ?

  35. al Ameda says:

    @Paul L.:

    You can prove the classified documents hidden in Biden’s garage next to his Corvette were there for 5 years and not part of a timed dropoff ?

    We know that those classified documents have been there since Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort visited Moscow to formally request that Russian operatives release Hilary’s emails.