There will be no criminal charges, but there will be a serious political blow. Special counsel Robert Hur has ruled out legal action against President Joe Biden, but the 388-page report he has delivered to Congress portrays him in a very graphic way as an octogenarian with a failing memory who doesn’t remember when his son died or when he was vice president. The report states that “at trial, Mr. 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.” The messages contained in the report are politically devastating for Biden at a time when polls indicate that age is a weak point in his re-election bid.
“Mr. Biden’s memory also appeared to have significant limitations,” reads the report on page 207, which discusses recordings from 2017 about Afghanistan. “Mr. Biden’s recorded conversations with [ghostwriter Mark Zwonitzer] from 2017 are often painfully slow, with Mr. Biden struggling to remember events and straining at times to read and relay his own notebook entries.”
“In his interview with our office, Mr. Biden’s memory was worse. He did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended (“if it was 2013 - when did I stop being Vice President?”), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began (“in 2009, am I still Vice President?”). He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died. And his memory appeared hazy when describing the Afghanistan debate that was once so important to him,” the report adds in the next page.
Although Hur concludes that no criminal charges should be pressed, the message is that it is because he believes that a jury would acquit him based on his memory limitations. “While he is and must be accountable for his actions — he is, after all, the President of the United States — based on our direct observations of him, Mr. Biden is someone for whom many jurors will want to search for reasonable doubt. It would be difficult to convince a jury they should convict a former president who will be at least well into his eighties of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”
It is the policy of the Department of Justice not to seek the indictment of sitting presidents. It is considered that it is Congress, through impeachment, that should be responsible for politically judging a president in office and, if necessary, removing him. Criminal accusations, on the other hand, have a place for former presidents, although Donald Trump, accused of 91 counts across four indictments, claims immunity in a debate involving the Supreme Court.
Biden is the first octogenarian president in U.S. history. He will end his current term at the age of 82 and if he is re-elected in the election of November 5, his presidency would in principle last until he is 86 years old.
A poll published last August by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found three in four Americans think the president is too old to serve another term. Asked what words came to mind when they thought of him, answers included “old” and “confused.”
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition