The White House launched a fierce fightback Friday against a devastating special counsel report that criticized Joe Biden’s failing memory, describing it as a political hit-job on the president in an election year.
US Vice President Kamala Harris led the charge to deal with the fallout after the investigation cleared Biden of illegally retaining classified documents but delivered a damning description of him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.
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The 81-year-old Democrat responded angrily in a nighttime press conference Thursday to insist his “memory is fine” — although he then compounded the problem by briefly mixing up the presidents of Egypt and Mexico.
“The way that the president’s demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts and (was) clearly politically motivated,” Harris said when asked about special counsel Robert Hur’s report.
Her comments marked a new line of attack for Biden and the White House, turning from criticism of the report to questioning the motives of the special prosecutor himself.
Hur was appointed by Republican then-president Donald Trump to be US Attorney for the District of Maryland in 2017 before being named by Biden’s attorney general Merrick Garland as special counsel in the documents case.
With questions swirling about Biden’s mental acuity as he seeks a second term, the spotlight is also on Harris as she would be first in line to succeed as president should he resign or be incapacitated.
Both Biden and Harris are suffering from stingingly low approval ratings as they campaign for another four years in the White House, most likely against Trump.
‘Gratuitous and inappropriate’
The White House separately slammed the “gratuitous and inappropriate criticisms”.
The spokesman for the White House Counsel’s Office Ian Sams stopped short of saying Hur was partisan but suggested he felt under pressure to “go beyond his remit” because of the polarized US political situation.
“When the inevitable conclusion is that the facts and the evidence don’t support any charges, you’re left to wonder why this report spends time making gratuitous and inappropriate criticisms of the president,” spokesperson Ian Sams told a briefing.
“We’re in a very pressurized political environment. And when you are the first special counsel in history not to indict anybody, there is pressure to criticize.”
Republicans have called on Biden to resign. Trump, who faces criminal charges over his retention of classified documents and then refusal to cooperate with investigators, has accused the Department of Justice of double standards.
The White House’s Sams also played down suggestions that the report’s age criticisms could hurt Biden in the polls in November, saying “I think the public is smart.”
Biden gave his own furious response from the White House on Thursday night, particularly lambasting the special counsel for claiming that he was unable to remember even the date of his son Beau’s death in 2015.
“To suggest that he couldn’t remember when his son died is really out of bounds,” added Sams.