Friday, May 24, 2024

Biden Allies, Critics Both Call for Release of Special Counsel Interview

'If you see that the White House objects to it, it probably suggests that the transcripts are not good for the White House...'

(Headline USA) Although special counsel Robert Hur undoubtedly faced pressure from the White House and Justice Department to come up with a reason not to charge President Joe Biden criminally for his mishandling of classified documents, the U.S. Attorney nonetheless released a searing report that condemned Biden’s responses during a lengthy interview.

It is unlikely that Biden would have been charged regardless, with Attorney General Merrick Garland exercising final discretion in the matter, and Garland ultimately answering to Biden himself. There remains, for now, legal debate as to whether it is even possible to criminally indict a sitting U.S. president, due to the chilling effect that this could have on executive decision-making.

Nonetheless, Hur’s report opened Biden up to fresh scrutiny over his age and memory, and both Biden allies and critics are seeking the public release of a transcript or recording of that discussion to better understand the extent of the red flags raised by the bombshell.

Hur’s report confirmed longstanding concerns based on Biden’s visible decline in cognitive function but hinted at a far worse problem than the public had been made aware of.

It suggested, for example, that the president couldn’t remember when his own son had died.

The White House has the ultimate say over whether to make public the transcript or audio recording of the interview or to claim executive privilege and keep the interview private. There’s precedent for documents related to White House investigations to ultimately become public—but also to be withheld.

A transcript of President Bill Clinton’s 1998 grand jury appearance related to allegations of a sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky was included as part of Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s massive report, which was delivered to the House and subsequently released to the public by Congress following a vote.

The Starr team debated extensively how much to disclose in the report, mindful of the graphic and sensitive nature of the findings, said Robert Bittman, who served as a Starr deputy during the investigation. Recognizing that it was ultimately up to the House to decide what to make public, the team gave “all the information [to Congress] that we had so they can make their own decisions.”

President George W. Bush, on the other hand, invoked executive privilege to block Congress from seeing the FBI report of an interview with Vice President Dick Cheney and other records related to the administration’s leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity in 2003. The move angered Congress.

Bittman said he did not think it was “necessarily a good thing” for investigative reports to be made public.

But now that the Hur report has been disclosed, it would be helpful to release the transcript of Biden’s interview “so that people can judge for themselves about whether Hur’s opinions about what President Biden said and what he remembered and what he didn’t remember is justified,” he added.

“If you see that the White House objects to it, it probably suggests that the transcripts are not good for the White House,” Bittman said, “and if they support release of it, then I suspect that that suggests the transcripts are good for the White House or President Biden.”

It is also possible that the White House may doctor or partially release the transcripts to create a distorted perception—which would likely placate the leftist media. But it would be much less likely that they release the actual recording of the interview.

Ironically, Biden’s interview text and the audio recording are classified because they include a discussion of the highly sensitive documents that Biden kept lying around his garage, where his drug-addict son Hunter and other family members who were doing business with hostile foreign nations might have had access to them over a period of several years.

Any potential release could happen either by a decision of the White House or through the Justice Department working to comply with congressional oversight requests. Both would follow nearly identical procedures.

Once a decision to pursue release of the interview was made, the sensitive parts of the document would be sent to the intelligence community to assess what could be declassified and what would need to be redacted. A further review would be warranted to determine if anything discussed about the security of the president’s home might impact protective measures.

Finally, the White House would need to weigh in, with the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, on whether to recommend that Biden invoke executive privilege over what others had cleared for publication.

Though Biden didn’t invoke executive privilege over the full report, the transcript could well be a different story. Among the documents found in Biden’s home were records of deliberations over a potential U.S. troop surge during the Afghanistan war and other conversations within the White House—an area that presidents are particularly loath to have publicly discussed.

The interview with Biden was conducted over two days last October, right after Hamas’s brutal attack on Israel.

Hur and his deputy, Marc Krickbaum, a former Trump-appointed U.S. attorney from Iowa, asked all of the questions.

Biden was joined by White House Counsel Ed Siskel; the counsel’s office investigations leader, Richard Sauber; and the president’s personal lawyer, Bob Bauer. Several other individuals from both sides were in the room as well, according to a person familiar with the interviews who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss them.

Separately, House Republicans have reached out to Hur and his representatives on the possibility of Hur testifying before Congress, and he has expressed a willingness to do so, according to two people who were not authorized to speak publicly about the request and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Republicans and Democrats alike are interested in more complete details about what went into the report. Biden and his allies claim a full transcript would show the president is mentally sharp and would prove that Hur cherry-picked moments solely to make him seem feeble. Biden’s attorneys raised their concerns to Garland, who nonetheless decided to keep the report as is and made it public.

Bauer, speaking on CBS’s Face the Nation over the weekend, offered an anecdote that didn’t make it into the report but that would be in a transcript. He said Hur acknowledged that sometimes he asked imprecise questions—ones that Biden picked apart.

“Now, everybody in the room recognized that was the case, that showed the president was listening carefully and understood precisely what was wrong with those questions,” Bauer said. “I didn’t come away from the special counsel’s failure to ask precise questions and think to myself, ‘he has mental acuity problems,’ I just thought he was asking bad questions.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have also requested that the audio of the interviews be made public and want to know more on why Hur chose not to prosecute Biden, particularly when they noted in their report that some evidence showed he held onto and shared with a ghostwriter highly classified information.

Hur said in his report that he did find evidence that Biden had willfully mishandled classified records but not enough evidence for a criminal prosecution like the one against former President Donald Trump.

Unlike Biden, whose purloined documents span from his time as a U.S. senator and vice president, Trump’s right to maintain archives from his term in office is covered under the Presidential Records Act.

A partisan official with the National Archives complained to the Justice Department that Trump had not delivered certain files, including a private letter written to him by former President Barack Obama.

That triggered an FBI probe, during which they instructed Trump to secure the documents being held at his Mar-a-Lago resort, which the former president says he agreed to do. Nonetheless, the FBI launched a raid of the property shortly before the 2022 midterm election and later indicted Trump for several counts including obstruction.

Trump has pled not guilty, and is likely to use the case against Biden in his defense, as well as a prior case in which former President Bill Clinton was allowed to keep classified recordings in his sock drawer.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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