Former President Donald Trump on Saturday ramped up his criticism of special counsel Robert Hur’s decision not to charge President Joe Biden over his handling of classified documents, while repeatedly questioning his successor’s mental acuity and peddling conspiratorial claims about former President Barack Obama.
Less than two days after the release of Hur’s report, Trump is trying to weaponize its language – which described Biden as forgetful and said he acted improperly, though not criminally – to cast doubt over the president’s mental fitness and accuse the Justice Department of bias. The long riffs also serve to deflect from Trump’s own, more serious legal concerns – which Hur, in his report, outlined in damning terms.
In a scattershot speech to supporters in South Carolina, Trump rolled out a wave of attacks on Biden. He claimed his rival was effectively incapacitated, operating under the influence of Obama – “I think Barack Obama has a lot to do with running the country right now,” Trump said. He also portrayed the president as the leader of a nefarious plot to derail Trump’s campaign with politically motivated criminal accusations, investigations and indictments.
“If Joe Biden is not fit to charge, they are not going to judge him with a crime, but it’s OK for him to become commander in chief?” Trump said. “Biden is bad for democracy because he’s grossly incompetent. … Plus, he uses DOJ and FBI and everything he can to go after an opponent and nothing has ever happened like that in this country.”
Biden has repeatedly said he would not instruct his Justice Department to investigate Trump nor push for any outcome if Attorney General Merrick Garland went forward – as he has – with probes into the former president. Garland and others in the DOJ have also said they are working independent of the White House.
The former president, flipping his own script, also said Biden was actually worse off not being charged because of the language used by Hur to describe the president’s forgetfulness.
“Crooked Joe got off scot-free and I don’t know if you call it scot-free. They said he was a mental basket case,” Trump said.
In actuality, Hur framed his report around the reasons he did not believe a jury would convict Biden, whom he said would likely portray himself as an “elderly man with a poor memory” in a bid to win jurors’ sympathy.
Republicans have long drawn parallels between Hur’s investigation and that of special counsel Jack Smith, despite critical differences in the two cases. (Smith brought charges against Trump last year related to his alleged mishandling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago after he left the White House.)
Hur was careful to note the distinction in his report – specifying that Biden cooperated with the investigation and returned the documents, while Trump did not return his documents and, when asked, sought to cover it up.
“Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite.” Hur wrote. “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.”
Hur added: “In contrast, Mr. Biden 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.”
Earlier on Saturday, the White House responded with a memo citing examples of Biden being described as “sharp” and “alert.”
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates singled out a series of notable individuals who have met with Biden recently and described him as engaged – among them the father of a freed hostage, former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley and former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy – and listed the administration’s accomplishments on infrastructure and the economy.
“This undeniable record speaks to why it’s no surprise that Republican officials’ continue their desperate – and inadvertently self-undermining – age attacks after many years of failure: they’re afraid of Joe Biden,” Bates wrote.
Bates also sought to use the recent GOP crack-up over a bipartisan border and foreign aid bill as an example of the president’s sharpness and undiminished political nous.
“This week alone, President Biden again outmaneuvered congressional Republicans on a key issue, border security, leaving opponents of the bipartisan deal openly citing Donald Trump for why they’re siding with fentanyl traffickers over the Border Patrol,” the memo reads.
Some Biden allies have also argued that Trump’s own flubs and garbled statements are much worse and concerning than the president’s missteps.
“Every single time Donald Trump opens his mouth, he’s confused, deranged, lying, or worse,” Biden campaign spokesperson TJ Ducklo said Friday after Trump spoke at a National Rifle Association event in Pennsylvania.“Tonight, he lied more than two dozen times, slurred his words, confused basic facts, and placated the gun lobby weeks after telling parents to ‘get over it’ after their kids were gunned down at school.”
Trump and his allies, though, are moving forward with a new campaign of sorts to drum up doubts over Biden’s competence.
On Friday, a pro-Trump super PAC put out a new ad – that Trump posted on his Truth Social platform – blasting Biden with similar accusations and a claim that the 81-year-old president is “unfit to stand trial” and “unfit to lead America.”
“It’s official: Joe Biden mishandled classified documents and how his two-tiered justice system is on full display,” the MAGA Inc. spot says. “The Department of Justice found Joe retained and disclosed classified documents, including matters of national security and intelligence sources and methods.”
CNN’s Arlette Saenz and Priscilla Alvarez contributed to this report.
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