White House officials on Friday called the special counsel’s report into President Biden’s handling of classified material politically motivated, escalating their attempts to discredit a document that characterized the president as elderly and forgetful.
Vice President Kamala Harris suggested that the report was more of a political attack than an unbiased legal document. Ian Sams, a spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office, said it was “inappropriate” and “troubling.”
The statements are part of an effort to rebuff the report by Robert K. Hur, the special counsel who was appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to investigate how classified material from Mr. Biden’s time as vice president had ended up in his garage in Delaware and an office in Washington.
The report, which was released on Thursday, found that “no criminal charges are warranted,” a conclusion that was immediately overshadowed by the characterization of the president’s memory. The report said Mr. Biden, 81, was a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and had “diminished faculties in advancing age.”
For a president whose primary political vulnerability is a perception that he is a diminished figure, those descriptions amounted to some of the most damaging accounts of his age during his time in the White House.
Mr. Sams would not commit on Friday to releasing transcripts from the interview — even with any classified information redacted. “It’s a reasonable question, and there are classified stuff and we’ll have to work through all that,” he said. “We’ll take a look at that and make a determination.”
The report forced the White House into immediate damage control, with the president holding a news conference on Thursday to push back on its conclusions about his mental acuity. “My memory is fine,” said Mr. Biden, who for years has fought questions about his age.
On Friday, Ms. Harris described the report as “politically motivated.”
“The way the president’s demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts and clearly politically motivated,” Ms. Harris said in response to questions from reporters at the White House.
Some Democrats also rallied to the president’s defense and accused Mr. Hur, a Trump-appointed former U.S. attorney in Maryland, of being biased and potentially violating Justice Department policy. The special counsel conducted 173 interviews, including with Mr. Biden and his top advisers, and examined hundreds of thousands of documents.
Representative Daniel S. Goldman, a New York Democrat and former federal prosecutor, denounced “the special counsel’s unnecessary and gratuitous swipe at the president,” saying it appeared to be “a very partisan stunt.”
The Biden response, in some ways, has been straight out of a traditional White House playbook: When a prosecutor makes unflattering or damaging assertions, counterattack by describing the prosecutor as a partisan.
But Mr. Biden’s allies called the special counsel’s descriptions of the president’s age gratuitous.
Mr. Sams, of the White House Counsel’s Office, suggested that Mr. Hur felt pressure to include the damaging descriptions of Mr. Biden out of anticipation that Republicans would attack him for not criminally charging Mr. Biden.
“There is pressure to criticize and to make, you know, statements that maybe otherwise you wouldn’t make,” Mr. Sams said. “It leaves you wondering why some of these critiques are in there.”
He added that the special counsel’s assignment was to determine whether any criminal conduct occurred. “He found that it didn’t,” Mr. Sams told reporters on Friday. “That was the finding. The case is closed.”
But politically, the case was far from closed.
The Republican National Committee quickly created a graphic with the report’s eight most brutal words — “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” — grafted onto the Biden campaign logo. Chris LaCivita, a top strategist for former President Donald J. Trump, called the special counsel’s description of Mr. Biden “damning and defining.”
Asked if the White House planned to evolve its strategy to convince Americans that Mr. Biden was not too old to hold the office of the presidency, Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Biden would continue to travel across the United States to talk directly to voters.
Democrats, meanwhile, made sure to go on the offensive.
“People are getting really mad,” said Representative Debbie Dingell, a Michigan Democrat who recently appeared with Mr. Biden when he visited her state. “People think this is a cheap shot by a political person.”
“It was designed to do exactly what it is doing: People are trying to stir up trouble,” she added. “There are very sharp, wise people who have wisdom and experience at 81.”
Alluding to Mr. Trump, she noted that others who were close to Mr. Biden’s age faced 91 felony charges.
Senator John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, dismissed the concerns as “a big nothing burger.”
“It doesn’t change anything on our side,” he said. “It’s just going to come down to the stark choice that we’re going to have. We can talk about Trump’s gaffes, and his age, or we can talk about ours — it doesn’t matter. Both sides are old, that’s a fact. If you want to argue there’s anything meaningful between three or four years apart, I don’t think there’s anything meaningful.”
Privately, some longtime Biden donors and supporters said there was a significant level of concern in their circles after the report and Mr. Biden’s news conference performance. But there was no obvious outlet for that angst: They expect Mr. Biden to be the party’s nominee, win or lose.
Peter Baker and Annie Karni contributed reporting from Washington.
First appeared on www.nytimes.com