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The Biggest Takeaways From Hur’s Testimony on the Biden Classified Documents Probe

Special Counsel Robert Hur testifies at a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington on March 12, 2024. Credit - Nathan Posner–Anadolu via Getty Images

Special Counsel Robert Hur testified before the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday about his investigation into President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, offering his first public comments on why he chose not to seek charges against the President and characterized him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” in his report last month.

Spanning more than four hours, lawmakers from both parties grilled Hur, who defended the entirety of his report and argued that the details about Biden’s memory were necessary to explain his decision. "My assessment in the report about the relevance of the President's memory was necessary and accurate and fair," Hur said in his opening statement. “I did not sanitize my explanation. Nor did I disparage the President unfairly.”

Hur concluded in his report that Biden carelessly kept classified documents and notebooks at his former Washington, D.C. office and Delaware home after he left the vice presidency in 2017, but said the evidence wasn’t strong enough to charge him with crimes. However, he also highlighted instances where Biden, 81, struggled to recall key dates from his vice presidency and the year his son Beau died. “What month did Beau die? Oh God, May 30,” Biden said during the interviews, which were made public on Tuesday. “Was it 2015 when he died?”

Democrats immediately criticized the special counsel for including details of Biden’s memory in the report after its release, but on Tuesday Hur said the details were necessary to show why he felt a jury would be unlikely to find Biden guilty of any wrongdoing. "What I wrote is what I believe the evidence shows and what I expect jurors would perceive and believe,” he said.

Hur’s testimony marked his first public comments since the release of his report in February, which ignited a political firestorm and raised questions about Biden’s age and mental fitness amid his re-election campaign.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the hearing.

Hur denied partisan influences

Democrats argued that Hur’s portrayal of Biden as an elderly man with "diminished capacities" was not appropriate and seemed politically motivated, especially since Hur is a registered Republican who was appointed to his role as U.S. attorney by Donald Trump.

Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, accused Hur of including disparaging remarks of Biden’s memory in the report to help Trump defeat Biden in the 2024 presidential election and secure himself a federal judgeship. "You're doing everything you can do to get President Trump re-elected so that you can get appointed as a federal judge, perhaps to another position in the Department of Justice. Is that correct?" Johnson pressed.

But Hur pushed back forcefully saying, "I have no such aspirations" and that "partisan politics had no place whatsoever in my work."

Republicans have used the Hur report to keep the focus on Biden’s age and memory in recent weeks, especially as he campaigns for re-election. Rep. Scott Fitzgerald, a Wisconsin Republican, read the Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition of the word "senile" and asked Hur if his report found that Biden was senile. He replied that "that conclusion did not appear in my report" and stated that the President's lapses in memory were only included in the report to illustrate how a jury might view Biden's intent to commit a crime.

Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, suggested that Hur must have known the impact of including disparaging remarks of Biden’s memory on the upcoming election.

“You understood that you made a choice,” Schiff said. “That was a political choice. It was the wrong choice.”

“What you are suggesting is that I shape, sanitize, omit portions of my reasoning and explanation to the Attorney General for political reasons,” Hur said in response.

Biden was not exonerated

When the Hur report came out last month, several Democrats attempted to portray it as an exoneration of the President—arguing that the lack of evidence found by Hur to charge the President implied his innocence.

But Hur said on Tuesday that this is not the case, telling Rep. Pramila Jayapal that “I did not ‘exonerate’ him—that word does not appear in the report.” He said that investigators uncovered evidence suggesting that Biden knowingly retained classified documents, but ultimately determined that it wasn’t enough to prove wrongdoing or convince a jury.

Hur's decision not to recommend charges against Biden infuriated several Republicans at Tuesday's hearing. Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican, said he had set a “frightening” precedent by claiming he didn't bring charges in part because Biden would present himself to a jury as an "elderly man with a poor memory."

“I want to get this straight: Is it now OK to take home top-secret documents, store them in my garage and read portions of them to friends and associates?” McClintock asked. “All I have to do when I’m caught taking home classified material is to say, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Hur, but I’m getting old, my memory’s not so great’? This is the doctrine you’ve established in our laws now and it is frightening.”

“My intent is certainly not to establish any sort of doctrine,” Hur replied. “I had a particular task, I had a particular set of evidence to consider and make a judgment with respect to one particular set of evidence and that is what I did.”

Lawmakers kept bringing up Trump

Members of both parties repeatedly drew comparisons between Biden and former President Donald Trump, who was charged by a different special counsel with felonies related to his own handling of classified material at his Mar-a-Lago home. Republicans argued that the lack of charges against Biden highlighted a perceived disparity in the justice system. "You are part of the praetorian guard that guards the swamp out here in Washington, D.C. protecting the elites—and Joe Biden is part of that company of the elites,” Rep. Tom Tiffany, a Wisconsin Republican, said.

Democrats pointed out that Trump's case is different from Biden's in that prosecutors have said Trump refused to give all the documents back and obstructed officials’ efforts to retrieve them. “This is a distraction from the 91 state and federal charges that Donald Trump faces now,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, said during the hearing.

Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Pennsylvania Democrat, asked Hur to read aloud the section of his report outlining the differences between the Biden and Trump cases. “Unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden, the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would present serious aggravating facts,” he read. "Most notably after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite,” Hur continued. “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."

"You may stop there," Dean said. "Thank you."

Write to Nik Popli at nik.popli@time.com.