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Special counsel to testify on Capitol Hill about Biden classified documents probe

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

House Republicans have tried for months to find evidence of wrongdoing by Joe Biden during and after his time as vice president. Their impeachment inquiry has delved into whether he was involved in his family's foreign business dealings. So far, nothing. But today, Republicans are trying a new line of attack, Biden's handling of classified documents. NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel joins us now with a preview. So, Eric, who is the GOP calling to testify at today's House hearing?

ERIC MCDANIEL, BYLINE: It is former special counsel Robert Hur. He investigated Biden over his retention of classified documents and declined to charge him. He's spent a long time working as a federal prosecutor. In the first part of the Trump administration, he was actually a senior official at the Justice Department. He played a role in overseeing the Russia interference investigation, which I'm sure we all remember well. He met regularly with special counsel Robert Mueller, which gave him a view on how special counsels operate. He then moved to serve as the U.S. attorney in Maryland. He was put in that job by then-President Trump. He left the post after the change in administration, which is typical. But then in January 2023, Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Hur to lead this investigation into Biden's handling of classified documents after Biden left the vice presidency. The investigation lasted about a year. Ultimately, like I said, he declined to bring charges, saying they wouldn't be warranted even once Biden leaves the presidency and becomes eligible to be charged by the Justice Department again.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, what has been the Biden's team's explanation for why he kept those documents?

MCDANIEL: They said it was an accident, basically, part of a mistake packing documents when leaving office that they described as typical. Once they were discovered at Biden's home by staff, the staff alerted the National Archives, who keeps documents like this, and cooperated with their return. Ultimately with the special counsel's investigation into the incident, too, Vice President Mike Pence - former Vice President Mike Pence apparently made a similar mistake and is also not facing charges.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, to be clear, Hur's report found no criminal wrongdoing by Biden, so why do Republicans want to talk to him in this very public hearing?

MCDANIEL: I mean, a huge part of it is impeachment politics, but it's also standard practice for a special counsel to the - head to the Hill and testify after wrapping up an investigation. That said, Republicans, of course, I think like that this report wasn't super complimentary to Biden. Hur found that Biden had not only retained the materials. He actually disclosed some of their contents to a ghostwriter who he was working with on a memoir. And the report describes Biden as a, quote, "sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory," end quote. Hur said he had trouble remembering timelines and details, which would make it tough to convince a jury that they should convict him, that it was - and that was sort of like a big old bat signal in the eyes of Republican congressmen.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. How's the White House reacted to this?

MCDANIEL: Well, they liked one part of the report, right? They agreed that the president shouldn't be charged. They commended the section that contrasted Biden to Trump, who is facing charges over allegedly trying to obstruct the investigation into his own retention of classified documents, as well as allegedly trying to get others to destroy evidence. But the White House was particularly frustrated with this characterization of Biden having a poor memory. They suspect - they suggested the special counsel was editorializing more than was necessary and emphasized that the period of time Hur was focused on was shortly after Biden's son, Beau, died of brain cancer. In a 2017 memoir, Biden actually talked about how his memories from that period are sort of clouded by grief, a feeling I imagine folks who've said a long goodbye to someone are familiar with.

MARTÍNEZ: Really quick, what are you going to be watching for?

MCDANIEL: Well, I mean, this is a hearing about Biden's mental fitness, I suspect, in the eyes of Republican. And, you know, I bet that starts to subside in the campaign season unless there's something from this hearing or anywhere else that starts to back up anything credible about Republican insinuations into the president's fitness.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR congressional reporter Eric McDaniel. Thanks.

MCDANIEL: Thanks, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Morning Edition
A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Eric McDaniel
Eric McDaniel edits the NPR Politics Podcast. He joined the program ahead of its 2019 relaunch as a daily podcast.