(WASHINGTON) — The Biden-Harris campaign, its surrogates and allies were forced to do damage control on Friday after special counsel Robert Hur’s report about President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents painted a scathing picture of his age and memory, raising new questions for voters nine months before the November election.
Despite Hur not bringing criminal charges, his report levied what amounted to a political indictment against the 81-year-old president, with investigators writing that a main reason for not pursuing charges was because “Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
Biden clapped back in a hastily-scheduled news conference Thursday night, just hours after the report was released, telling reporters, “I’m well-meaning, and I’m an elderly man, and I know what the hell I’m doing.”
The president’s top surrogates, from Vice President Kamala Harris to congressional Democrats, kept pushing back on Friday, dismissing the special counsel’s report as “politically motivated” and “inappropriate.”
The Biden campaign declined to comment when asked how it’s trying to quell renewed concerns about the president’s age.
A source familiar with the campaign’s thinking told ABC News that Republicans attacking the president’s age is nothing new, saying that strategy didn’t work in 2020 and won’t work in 2024, when the source said voters value experience and wisdom as well.
Here are five ways Biden allies are striking back:
Hur is a Trump appointee and Republican
Biden surrogates have been quick to point out that Robert Hur, a Republican, was appointed by former President Donald Trump to be U.S. Attorney in Maryland in 2018. However, it was Attorney General Merrick Garland, a Biden-appointee, who chose Hur to lead the investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents.
Some are now accusing Hur of having an agenda despite not having enough evidence to criminally indict Biden.
“At the end of the day, it looks as though the special counsel couldn’t charge him with anything, so he just threw the books at him anyway,” said former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile, an ABC News contributor. “The report read like it was going to get published in the New York Post or on Trump campaign website. It did not read like a legal document.”
Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., in an interview with ABC News on Thursday, called the report’s descriptions of Biden “partisan editorializing by a Republican-appointed prosecutor.”
“This is a Republican special counsel who completely went out of his way to editorialize, to include material in his report that is unnecessary and irrelevant to what he was tasked with doing,” Goldman said, of Hur. “The fact that he’s a Republican and he’s exonerating President Biden, he knows he’s going to be under attack because Republicans want to create this false equivalency between President Biden and former President Trump.”
Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, at an unrelated news conference on Friday, deemed the comments by Hur “unfair” and “unnecessary,” also noting he was a Republican appointee.
“I smell a rat in the comments that were made,” he told reporters.
Hur had no comment.
Doesn’t compare to Trump’s classified docs case
Biden aides and allies say the bottom line is that while the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified documents ended with charges, Biden fully cooperated, and Hur decided there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him.
Juxtapose that, they say, to Trump’s case, in which he’s charged with obstructing efforts to secure the documents.
Jim Messina, former President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign manager, urged his social media followers not to equate a “heavily editorialized special counsel’s report” as a bigger liability than the 91 criminal charges pending against Trump. (Trump has denied all wrongdoing).
“Hur, a lifelong Republican and creature of DC, didn’t have a case against Biden, but he knew exactly how his swipes could hurt Biden politically,” Messina said in a post.
“We’ve got to stop treating a single line in a gratuitously long, heavily editorialized special counsel’s report–in which no crime was found btw–by a partisan Republican investigator like it’s a bigger liability than Trump’s 91 criminal charges and being found liable for rape,” he said in another.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, also highlighted on social media Friday the differences between Trump and Biden’s respective investigations.
“Read the documents. It’s not hard. Biden fully cooperated. Trump obstructed at every turn,” he said in a post. “They know this. And they know how damaging their arguments are to Americans’ confidence in their democracy.”
While Trump’s popularity among Republican voters has risen with each criminal indictment, according to his national polling average on 538, Biden’s mishandling of documents might not be as easily accepted by his base.
There’s also a gap when it comes to perceptions of Trump, 77, and Biden, 81. A recent NBC News poll found 62% of voters have “major concerns” about Biden’s age whereas only 34% have “major concerns” about Trump’s age.
The special counsel has no business making ‘gratuitous’ statements
“Gratuitous” is swiftly becoming a buzzword for Democrats to describe the language they take issue with in Hur’s report.
“The way that the president’s demeanor in that report was characterized, could not be more wrong on the facts and clearly, politically motivated, gratuitous,” said Vice President Kamala Harris, a former federal prosecutor. “When it comes to the role and responsibility of a prosecutor in a situation like that, we should expect that there will be a higher level of integrity than what we saw,” she added.
The Democratic National Committee War Room on Friday blasted a press email listing nearly a dozen instances of other prosecutors and legal experts questioning whether Hur’s comments on Biden’s memory were appropriate, with the email characterizing them as “political cheap shots that came straight from MAGA Republican talking points.”
Among the voices was former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, who said in a post on X that the report had “many gratuitous remarks and is flatly inconsistent with long standing DOJ traditions.”
Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House counsel’s office, was among the first to characterize Hur’s criticisms of Biden’s memory as “inaccurate, gratuitous and wrong.”
Recounting personal Biden stories about mental agility
Biden allies are also offering first-hand accounts of Biden’s sharpness as they face renewed questions about his mental acuity.
Goldman has recounted in multiple interviews how he spoke with Biden the day before the president’s voluntary interview with the special counsel on Oct. 8, the day after Hamas attacked Israel.
“He was incredibly on point. His recall, his knowledge of a very tricky geopolitical situation was remarkable right off the bat. And he had spoken to a number of leaders, and he knew exactly where the pressure points were,” Goldman said. “And that’s where his age is so beneficial because he has 50 years of foreign policy experience.”
DNC Chair Jaime Harrison also shared his Biden story in a post, moments after the president’s impromptu Thursday night news conference.
“On AF1 I chatted with him on a myriad of topics from politics to family. Saw him bring down the house in SC talking about the promises made and the promises kept!” Harrison assured his followers.
Other Democrats are flatly stating the undeniable truth: Biden is old.
But so, they add, is Trump.
“President Biden and former President Donald Trump have both old, and if that’s the only issue in the 2024 campaign, then the American people will have to judge between two elderly men,” Brazile said. “The president has has acknowledged that he is an elderly man, and he also has acknowledged that he’s still up to doing the work on behalf of the American people. I don’t know what else we can say.”
The youngest member of Congress, Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., in a press call for the Biden-Harris campaign on an unrelated topic on Friday, flatly acknowledged Biden “is old” but deflected to the administration’s record, which he said is what Democrats will run on.
“Number one, yes. OK. President Biden is old. OK. Yeah. It doesn’t sound like breaking news to me,” said Frost, who is 27. “When it comes down to how this is gonna impact folks down ballot and how Joe Biden’s candidacy will impact folks down ballot, I see nothing but positivity — because we’re looking at an agenda and we’re looking at a record that is positive.”
Biden isn’t the only one confusing names – so are Trump and Johnson
The report alleging Biden couldn’t recall the years he served as vice president or when his son, Beau, died, followed the president twice this week confusing European leaders with their dead predecessors — instances his allies are dismissing as common mistakes.
“If he had a momentary blip where he couldn’t remember, as his mind is racing from the war in the Middle East to the questions that he’s been asking, I think that’s understandable for any of us,” Goldman told ABC News Live.
After Biden mistakenly called Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi the president of Mexico during his news conference, surrogates were quick to pounce on the fact that Biden isn’t the only big-name politician to recently confuse a name.
Goldman called it “nit-picking” and “inappropriate,” he said, “unless you’re also going to do it with Speaker Mike Johnson or anyone else who makes a mistake.”
Notably, the House speaker confused Iran with Israel last week on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, and Trump, at a rally last month, twice mentioned Nikki Haley when he meant Nancy Pelosi. Trump has also repeatedly confused former President Barack Obama with Biden at recent rallies.
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