Tag: merrick garland
Political Press Keeps Echoing Special Counsel's Partisan Smear Of Biden

Political Press Keeps Echoing Special Counsel's Partisan Smear Of Biden

A Trump-appointed prosecutor dropped an unfalsifiable partisan bomb on President Joe Biden Thursday, playing into a years-long right-wing media campaign — and U.S. political journalists decided to treat it as a valid and impartial charge.

Biden, who has a 40-year record of public service in the U.S. Senate, as vice president, and in the Oval Office, is a self-described “gaffe machine” with a well-documented stutter. He is also, at 81, the oldest president in U.S. history.

The right has dedicated substantial time and resources since Biden launched his 2020 presidential campaign to attributing his verbal miscues to his age. Republican political operatives surface out-of-context snippets of Biden’s misstatements and try to blow them up into national stories, and it is rarely-disputed canon in the right-wing media that the president is a mentally failing dementia patient.

This argument blew up in their faces when Biden performed so well in a debate against then-President Donald Trump that the GOP resorted to accusing him of taking performance-enhancing drugs, and again in 2023, when his canny dealings with then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy led McCarthy to describe him as “very smart” and Republicans to question how they’d been outmaneuvered by someone purportedly in mental decline. But undeterred by reality, the right has maintained the drumbeat over Biden’s mental status, driving up public concern over the president’s age.

Enter Robert Hur. Attorney General Merrick Garland presumably selected him as a special counsel to investigate Biden’s possible unauthorized removal and retention of classified documents or other records because he thought he could quell potential complaints of political bias by putting in charge a former clerk to right-wing judges whom Trump appointed as a U.S. attorney with every incentive to do maximum political damage to the Democratic president. This is a regular pattern — Republican and Democratic administrations each appoint Republicans to investigate both Republicans and Democrats, though that never seems to halt the complaints from the right about the handling of those cases.

Last Thursday, after a year-long investigation, Hur issued a 345-page report in which he concluded that “no criminal charges are warranted in this matter” and that “the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” But rather than stop there, he also levied an incendiary and gratuitous attack on Biden’s mental status, claiming 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.” Hur cited specific mental lapses he’d observed during their five hours of interviews — conducted at a time when Biden was responding to the international crisis caused by the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel — including that his “memory appeared hazy” when discussing the intricacies of 15-year-old White House policy debates.

Hur’s argument that lawyers for the sitting president of the United States would argue in court that he shouldn’t be convicted of a crime because he is a senile old man is facially absurd. Indeed, Biden forcefully pushed back on the critique during a White House appearance Thursday night.

The special counsel’s actions drew sharp criticism from the legal community. Biden’s lawyers blasted claims about Biden’s memory in a draft report, saying, “We do not believe that the report's treatment of President Biden's memory is accurate or appropriate. The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events.” On MSNBC, former FBI counsel Andrew Weissmann called the claims “wholly inappropriate,” “gratuitous,” and “exactly what you’re not supposed to do, which is putting your thumb on the scale that could have political repercussions.” Neal Katyal, the former acting U.S. solicitor general, likewise said that based on his tours in the Justice Department, Hur’s statements were “totally gratuitous” and a “too-clever-move-by-half by the special counsel to try and take some swipes at a sitting president.” And Ty Cobb, a former Trump lawyer, said on CNN that he had served on an independent counsel probe that declined to prosecute someone due to “health issues, but we didn’t tell the world that,” suggesting that such statements by Hur were inappropriate.

But by including those inappropriate and gratuitous statements, Hur put an official seal on a partisan attack.

The right jumped on Hur’s claims, with Republican politicians and right-wing commentators falsely claiming that the special counsel had found that Biden “is not competent to stand trial” and “has dementia.” Some called for the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and remove him from office.

The mainstream political press, meanwhile, turned Hur’s insinuations about Biden’s mental health — and not his declination to prosecute — into the report’s big takeaway. Here’s a sampling of top headlines from major newspapers, political tipsheets, and digital outlets on Thursday and Friday.

Stories about Biden’s mental state are clearly catnip for political journalists. They can demonstrate how “fair” they are by providing negative coverage of Biden to balance their treatment of his likely opponent Donald Trump, who is an unhinged authoritarian facing scores of federal and state criminal charges, including for attempting to subvert the 2020 presidential election. And they don’t need to bone up on policy nuances separating the candidates — “is the president addled” is an easy venue for hot takes.

The storyline is particularly toxic because no matter how many times it is repudiated by Biden’s public actions or the statements of people who have spoken to him privately, it cannot be falsified. The White House physician can release health summaries calling him “fit to successfully execute the duties of the Presidency.” Democrats who have recently spoken to the president, like Rep. Dan Goldman (D-NY), and reporters who have recently interviewed him, like John Harwood, can attest to his mental acuity at the time of his special counsel interview. But Biden is still Biden, so he’s going to keep making gaffes, as he did Thursday night when he referred to Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as “the president of Mexico,” leading journalists to downplay his newsmaking statements about the Israel-Hamas war and fixate instead on what the statement says about his mental health.

The choice for reporters is how they respond to such misstatements. On NPR, Mara Liasson said that the White House is pushing back by pointing out that Biden’s foes, like Fox’s Sean Hannity and Trump, have had similar mix-ups.

“But the difference is that one of these missteps, one of these guys who forgets things, Biden, has become a viral meme, and it's become a big problem for him,” she said. “Trump's misstatements, for some reason, have not risen to that level.”

It’s true that Trump’s own verbal missteps have not coalesced into an overarching narrative about his mental fitness for office. But the reason why is obvious: Political journalists decided to treat Biden’s missteps as a big problem, and Trump’s as a small one. They’re setting the agenda, following the lead of the Republican Party, the right-wing media, and now, Hur.

Update (2/12/24): Popular Information’s Judd Legum reviewed the output of three major newspapers and found a “deluge of negative media coverage based on Hur's conjecture” which treated “Hur's amateur medical judgments as a political crisis for Biden and an existential threat to his reelection campaign.”

“A Popular Information analysis found that just three major papers — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal — collectively published 81 articles about Hur's assessment of Biden's memory in the four days following the release of Hur's report,” Legum wrote. “Incidents that raised questions about former President Trump's mental state received far less coverage by the same outlets.”


Legum also found that the papers provided significantly less coverage of Trump’s recent mix-up of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley.


    Hunter Biden Prosecutor Says Nobody Interfered With His Investigation

    Hunter Biden Prosecutor Says Nobody Interfered With His Investigation

    David Weiss, who was tapped by Attorney General Merrick Garland as special counsel to oversee the Department of Justice's investigation into Hunter Biden, recently testified under oath that his investigation has not been obstructed in any way by the Biden administration.

    The House Judiciary Committee — chaired by Trump acolyte Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — recently brought in Weiss for questioning in relation to the ongoing Hunter Biden investigation, which Republicans argue is being hamstrung by the White House. But the Washington Post reported Wednesday that Weiss' testimony silenced those rumors.

    "I am, and have been, the decision-maker on this case," Weiss said. "At no time was I blocked, or otherwise prevented from pursuing charges or taking the steps necessary in the investigation by other United States Attorneys, the Tax Division or anyone else at the Department of Justice."

    Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the ranking member on the committee, called Weiss' testimony a "waste of time."

    "[Weiss] was very clear that no one told him what to prosecute and what not to prosecute. He made all those decisions himself, and he said that before," Nadler said. "And I mean, [Republicans] tried to get him to say anything, but they just go over and over and over again the same thing."

    House Republicans disagreed with that sentiment, insisting that Weiss' testimony wasn't credible and that questions still lingered about political pressure from the White House on the DOJ's investigation into the president's son.

    "The important thing is that he has no answers for why he would offer a misdemeanor plea bargain with no jail time to someone who committed felonies and exclude all unknown or yet-to-be-investigated crimes," Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said. "It’s that lack of explanation that leads us to all the other questions of whether he was influenced by others or in consultation with others."

    Hunter Biden is set to go to trial in 2024 on charges relating to gun possession and filing false statements after a plea agreement fell apart earlier this year. Weiss was appointed by former President Donald Trump in 2018 to be US Attorney for the US District Court in the District of Delaware. President Biden has kept him in that position.

    Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

    'Too Many Secrets': Washington Post Urges Reform Of Classification System

    'Too Many Secrets': Washington Post Urges Reform Of Classification System

    The discovery and voluntary relinquishing of classified documents at properties connected to President Joe Biden ignited a firestorm among politicos given the story's concurrence with the ongoing saga surrounding former President Donald Trump's hoarding of top-secret texts at his Mar-a-Lago golf compound in Palm Beach, Florida.

    The United States Department of Justice's appointment of special counsels to investigate each case – Jack Smith for Trump and Robert Hur for Biden – signals that Attorney General Merrick Garland seeks to remain impartial in pursuit of the truth.

    And although the circumstances of the two scandals lack a fundamental equivalency – with Trump's being presumed as a criminal matter and Biden's being likened to Hillary Clinton's exonerated negligence – the stories have nevertheless triggered discussions over the federal government's policies regarding sensitive materials.

    On Sunday, The Washington Post editorial board expanded on that topic, opining that "the classification system for managing secrets is overwhelmed and desperately needs repair."

    The paper's editors had two main points. The first was that "too much national security information is classified, and too little declassified. For years, officials have stamped documents 'secret' in a lowest-common-denominator system that did not penalize over-classification and made declassification difficult and time-consuming. For example, in November, a 2004 interview of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney with the 9/11 Commission was released to the public. It should not have taken 18 years."

    They cited a statement given in 2004 by then-Republican Rep. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, who lamented the quantity of information that intelligence organizations deem unfit for public knowledge.

    "There are too many secrets," Shays said. That formed the basis of the Post's second argument.

    "Over-classification is counterproductive, making it harder for agencies to function, draining budgets and eroding public confidence. Agencies put their best people to work on the most urgent problems, and declassification is a low priority," the Board explained. "Now comes a 'tsunami,' as the Public Interest Declassification Board warned two years ago: an explosion of digital information. Yet management of classified materials 'largely follows established analog and paper-based models.'"

    The editors then suggested a solution.

    "A good start would be to simplify the classification process into two tiers, 'secret' and 'top secret,' eliminating the lower 'confidential' level, while protecting those secrets that need special handling," they said. Recall that "confidential" was the marking that plagued Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign.

    The Post also alluded to a meeting held by "government experts" from the Hudson Institute in which they determined that “the growing volume of classified records already exceeds the ability of humans alone to process them.”

    The editors concluded that the Hudson Institute's realization was a "wake-up call," adding that "the whole system needs to be fixed, and its dysfunction should not be ignored for another decade."

    Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

    Will New Special Counsel Make Indictment Of Trump 'Much Easier'?

    Will New Special Counsel Make Indictment Of Trump 'Much Easier'?

    Legal experts are weighing in after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Thursday afternoon he has appointed Andrew Hur as special counsel to review President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents, a small number of which were found in his Pennsylvania office and Delaware home from his time as Vice President.

    Last month Garland, after more than 500 days into the Justice Department’s investigation of Trump’s handling of classified documents, appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to investigate the ex-president. Both special counsels are former Trump appointees.

    Republicans have been attacking President Biden, despite aides immediately contacting DOJ and the National Archives to return the documents, which are believed to have been misplaced. In stark contrast, Donald Trump or his aides are believed to have been responsible for the packing for transport of hundreds of classified documents from the White House to an unsecured area of his Mar-a-Lago resort. Trump himself reportedly personally packed boxes of classified documents after the National Archives demanded their return, but did not send all of them back.

    Noted national security attorney Brad Moss on Thursday said, “I have no issue with Garland appointing a Special Counsel here regarding the Biden documents. I think it’s pointless [Hur will still report to Garland in the end] but the politics of the moment require it. It changes nothing in terms of my legal analysis of liability.”

    On Wednesday Moss had said about the Trump versus Biden classified documents issues, “Objective legal analysts have spent six months making clear that criminal liability for Trump exists only because of his obstruction. Absent that, DOJ wouldn’t bother prosecuting an accidental mishandling case here.”

    “Nothing I have seen has changed my mind yet that Biden and his team, for now at least, are not at risk of criminal exposure,” he also said Wednesday. “Nor do I have any reason to believe this changes the calculus on an indictment of Trump. That said, this sloppiness by Biden’s staff angers me.”

    “I still don’t view it as a criminal issue,” he added.

    Former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade said on MSNBC just after Garland’s announcement that she believes the appointment of a special counsel makes it “more likely” that Trump will be prosecuted in the classified documents case.

    On Wednesday McQuade toldThe Guardian’s Hugo Lowell, “Cases typically are charged criminally only when an aggravating factor is present… difference with Trump is that two of the four are met, and that is willful violation and obstruction.”

    “The two factors that are present for Trump do not appear to be present in the Biden case… these cases are very different,” she added.

    Former FBI Special Counsel Andrew Weissmann, who spent two decades at DOJ, appears to agree with the other experts.

    “Appointment of Hur makes it much easier for Jack Smith to bring Trump MAL docs charges,” Weissman tweeted. “Gives DOJ the necessary reality and appearance of balance and fairness.”

    “Even after AG Garland’s announcement still no facts from which to think anything Biden did was with knowledge and intent,” he also said.

    Reprinted with permission from Alternet.