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Special Counsel Seeks No Criminal Charges in Biden’s Classified Records Case

The special counsel investigating President Biden said in a report released on Thursday that he had decided “no criminal charges are warranted” against Mr. Biden over his handling of classified material after leaving the vice presidency in early 2017, but had found evidence that Mr. Biden had willfully retained and disclosed some sensitive material.

Robert K. Hur, the special counsel, said in his highly unflattering report that Mr. Biden had left the White House after his vice presidency with classified documents about Afghanistan and notebooks with handwritten entries “implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods” taken from internal White House briefings.

The report said that Mr. Biden had shared the content of the notebooks with a ghostwriter who helped him on his 2017 memoir, “Promise Me, Dadeven though he knew some of it was classified.

While Mr. Hur decided not to prosecute Mr. Biden, some of his reasons for doing so are likely to raise new questions about the president’s conduct and his mental state, portraying him as unable in interviews to remember key dates of his own vice presidency — and even precisely when his son Beau had died.

“Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Mr. Hur wrote.

It would be difficult to convince a jury after Mr. Biden left office that “a former president well into his 80s” was guilty of a felony that “requires a mental state of willfulness,” Mr. Hur added.

But Mr. Hur’s assessment will provide potent new political arguments for President Donald J. Trump in his battle to discredit the department over its far more serious investigation into his retention of classified materials, which resulted in criminal charges last summer. Mr. Hur’s report includes a photograph of the open box where the F.B.I. found classified Afghanistan documents in Mr. Biden’s cluttered garage, next to a ladder and old exercise equipment.

White House officials said Mr. Biden had fully cooperated with the investigation and that he took the handling of classified information seriously.

“We disagree with a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments in the special counsel’s report. Nonetheless, the most important decision the special counsel made — that no charges are warranted — is firmly based on the facts and evidence,” Richard Sauber, a special counsel for Mr. Biden, said in a statement.

Mr. Hur, a former Trump Justice Department official appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in January 2023 to lead the inquiry after classified files were found in the garage and living areas of Mr. Biden’s home in Delaware and his former office in Washington, said his decision not to pursue criminal charges would have been the same even if Justice Department policy did not preclude indicting a sitting president.

“We conclude that the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Mr. Hur wrote in his 300-plus page report.

In the report’s introduction, Mr. Hur cited Mr. Biden’s cooperation with investigators, in stark contrast with former President Donald J. Trump’s behavior when documents were discovered at his resort in Florida, as one of the factors in his decision not to bring charges.

Unlike Mr. Biden, Mr. Trump refused to return the materials he retained “after being given multiple chances to return documents and avoid prosecution,” he wrote.

In a conversation recorded at a rented property in Virginia in February 2017 — a month after he left office — Mr. Biden told his ghostwriter he had “just found all the classified stuff downstairs.”

Mr. Hur said that exchange was the strongest basis for a prosecution he had found, but that a jury was unlikely to convict Mr. Biden, given the fact that he had grown accustomed to legally retaining documents as vice president, might have not fully adjusted to the new restrictions and believed he had the right to keep his personal notes — based on President Reagan’s retention of similar materials for decades.

Mr. Hur could not establish whether classified documents discovered at Mr. Biden’s house had been willfully retained, or whether they had been obtained during his vice presidency and sloppily stored.

The classified document discovered in Mr. Biden’s Delaware garage in a “badly damaged box surrounded by household detritus” indicated he simply may have forgotten he had it over the years, rather than intentionally breaking the law, Mr. Hur concluded.

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