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Special Counsel Testifies on Biden Documents Probe. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired March 12, 2024 - 13:00   ET



REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): Very good. They are your exact words.

That was not the case with Donald Trump. You have a copy of your report today, don't you, in front of you?


DEAN: Would you read a portion of it for me, your words. It is page 11 starting on line 3, beginning with the words, "Unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden."

Would you read the next few sentences?

HUR: "Unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden, the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would present serious aggravating facts."

DEAN: Keep going.

HUR: Congresswoman, I'm happy to have you read the words in my report.

DEAN: Well, it's your report, so I think it actually is more fitting that you read those.

HUR: "Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite."

DEAN: Keep going.

HUR: "According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for many months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it."

DEAN: You may stop there. Thank you.

You mentioned the indictment against Mr. Trump for mishandling sensitive classified national security information.

That indictment says, at the end of his presidency, Mr. Trump -- I'm looking for my indictment here. I have it here. Hang on. "Mr. Trump himself ordered that boxes containing classified materials go to Mar- a-Lago, where he hosted tens of thousands of guests. Then he kept these sensitive materials carelessly about the property."

As you can see here, classified documents ended up in a bathroom, a ballroom, on a floor, spewing about. And when a grand jury subpoenaed the documents, what did Donald Trump do? The indictment again shows against him what he responded by, suggesting that his attorney falsely represent that -- the FBI and grand jury that he did not have documents called for by the subpoena.

He directed his employee, Walt T. Nauta, to move boxes of the documents to conceal them from Mr. Trump's attorney and then lied to his attorney and the FBI and the grand jury, suggesting his attorney might hide or destroy documents called for by the grand jury investigation.

Mr. Hur, are those the type of aggravating facts to which you refer to in your report?

HUR: Congresswoman, the aggravating facts that I refer to in the report are set forth and described in my report at page 11.

DEAN: Very good.

Mr. Hur, to the best of your knowledge and investigation, did President Biden ever direct an employee to lie about, hide, or destroy classified information, yes or no?

HUR: We did not identify such evidence.

DEAN: Did he do so himself?

HUR: We did not identify such evidence.

DEAN: And I want to give you a chance, since the transcript is out, to correct the record on an important point.

Very sadly, your report on page 208 says that Mr. Biden couldn't come up with the date the year of his son Beau Biden's death, when, in fact, in the transcript it shows that you asked him the month. And do you know what he said, Mr. Hur? He said, "Oh, God, May 30."

Would you like to correct the record? His memory was pretty firm on the month and the day.

HUR: Congresswoman, I don't believe that's correct with respect to the transcript, but if you could refer me to a specific page, I'd be happy to look. I have read about it in reporting.

Thank you. I yield back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chair now recognizes Mr. Kiley.

REP. KEVIN KILEY (R-CA): Mr. Hur, why did the White House ask you to remove parts of the report? What was the reason they gave for that? HUR: I don't have the letter in front of me, Congressman. I believed

that among their reasons was that they contested or that they asserted that certain language in the report was inconsistent with DOJ policy.

KILEY: The day that your report came out, the president gave a live news conference on national television. Did you watch that news conference?

HUR: I watched the press conference, yes.

KILEY: What was your reaction to seeing the president personally attack you and your team?

HUR: Congressman, I'm here to talk about the work that went into the report and my declination decision and my explanation of it for the attorney general.

KILEY: And it wasn't just the president. Anthony Coley, former spokesman for Merrick Garland, has said that Democrats should focus their ire on Hur.

The president's personal attorney, Bob Bauer, said that your report is a shabby piece of work and a shoddy work product. Do you agree with that characterization of your report?

HUR: I disagree vehemently with that characterization of my report.

KILEY: I also disagree. I think it's very well written, well- considered, and comprehensive.

Do you think it's appropriate for the administration to be attacking the work of a special counsel that it appointed itself?

HUR: Congressman, I'm not going to comment on the propriety of the administration's reaction to my report. What I can tell you is that I stand by the report and the work that went into it.

KILEY: Today, the ranking member started his opening statement by saying, Mr. Hur completely exonerated President Biden and called your report a total and complete exoneration.

Mr. Hur, did you completely exonerate President Biden?

HUR: That is not what my report does.

KILEY: Was your report a total and complete exoneration?


HUR: That is not what the report says.

KILEY: So the statement by the ranking member was incorrect, yes?

HUR: As I said, the report is not an exoneration. That word does not appear in my report.

KILEY: Based on the facts and anticipation of defenses presented in your report, could a reasonable juror have voted to convict?

HUR: As I said in the report, some reasonable jurors may have reached the inferences that the government would present in its case in chief...


KILEY: So a reasonable juror could have voted to convict based on the facts that you present?

HUR: Correct.

KILEY: If you were on the jury, would you have voted to convict?

HUR: I have not engaged in that thought exercise, Congressman, and so what I'd like to stick to is what's in the report, which is my assessment as a prosecutor.

KILEY: Sure.

And what you did find in the report is that the president -- this is page 200 -- risked serious damage to America's national security through his handling and mishandling of classified materials. And you identify -- quote -- "a strong motive for the way he handled those materials."

Two of the motives you cited was his desire to run for president and his desire to sell books. So a reasonable inference for your report is that the president risked serious damage to America's national security in order to make money and advance his personal political ambitions. Is that correct?

HUR: The report includes a description of the evidence and different inferences that reasonable jurors could draw from the evidence.

KILEY: And you also note that the president described his predecessor's handling of classified materials as totally irresponsible. And your report concludes that Mr. Biden's emphatic and unqualified conclusion that keeping marked classified documents unsecured in one's home is totally irresponsible applies equally to his own decisions. Is that correct?

HUR: That language does appear in the report.

KILEY: You cite as a mitigating factor the fact that the president cooperated in the investigation.

But at the time that the investigation was happening and these acts of cooperation occurred, the Mar-a-Lago investigation was already a matter of public record, correct?

HUR: I believe that's correct.

KILEY: So we already had a public debate about the handling of classified documents and the potential application of the criminal laws to that general set of circumstances. HUR: I think that's fair.

KILEY: And so the president,when he decided to cooperate or not cooperate, had to know that that decision to cooperate or not cooperate would become known to the public and he would be judged accordingly. Is that correct?

HUR: I'm not in a position to opine on what was or was not in the president's...

KILEY: But it's relevant to your analysis as to whether or not it counts as a mitigating factor. If he knew that he was going to have to be judged based on whether he cooperated or not, that would have lessened its value as a mitigating factor. So did that, in your analysis, lessen its value?

HUR: We undertook a comprehensive...

KILEY: So, that specific factor, did it lessen its value as a mitigating factor?

HUR: That and all facts relating to the president's cooperation with our investigation.

KILEY: Another factor you discussed is deterrence. And you say that deterrence, actually -- the factor actually counsels against bringing charges here, because you said: "As for general deterrence, future presidents and vice presidents are already likely to be deterred by the multiple recent criminal investigations and one prosecution of current and former president and vice presidents for mishandling classified documents."

So that one prosecution, of course, is the indictment brought by Jack Smith. So by the very terms of your analysis, Jack Smith's indictment actually counseled against and was accounted against bringing charges in this case. Is that correct?

HUR: I'm sorry, Congressman. I don't follow your drift.

KILEY: Well, you said that there's already deterrence because there's this prosecution out there in a prior case related to classified documents, so we don't need to bring another case to establish deterrent value.

That's -- that was the essence of your analysis, correct?

HUR: Congressman, what I will say is that I will stand by the way and the specific words in which I characterized my assessment of deterrence value of a case under the principles of federal prosecution that's on page 254 and 255 of my report.

KILEY: Thank you.

My time is out, but I will just add, the perverse implication here is that the administration, by the very terms of your analysis, actually made it less likely that the president would face charges by Jack Smith bringing an indictment. Thank you, and I yield back.

DEAN: Mr. Chairman, I have a unanimous consent request.


DEAN: Thank you. I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record two documents, first, the superseding indictment against Donald Trump in the Southern District of Florida, where he is currently facing criminal charges on 40 counts, including obstruction of justice, lying to the FBI, his unlawful, willful retention of national defense.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection, the indictment is recognized.

DEAN: ... and withholding the concealment of documents from law enforcement, among other things. That was the shortened version.

And my second document, to clarify for you, sir, Mr. Hur, from the transcription, page 82. The words are President Biden's. "What month did Beau die? Oh, God, May 30. A searing memory."

I ask unanimous consent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without objection.


The gentlewoman from Georgia is recognized.

REP. LUCY MCBATH (D-GA): I thank you, Mr. Chair and Ranking Member, for this hearing.

And thank you so much for spending so much time with us, Special counsel Hur.

In accordance with the law, classified information must be treated with the highest respect and also protected. And President Biden has made it clear during this investigation and long before that he agrees.

In response to Mr. Hur's report, he said -- and I quote -- "Over my career in public service, I have always worked to protect America's security. I take these issues seriously and no one has ever questioned that" -- end quote.

The special counsel's report makes clear that this is unfortunately a common occurrence for classified documents to get swept up into members of Congress or executive branch officials' personal effects. And as soon as President Biden discovered that he had mistakenly kept classified material, he took swift and immediate action to ensure that those materials were returned and he fully cooperated with every step of your investigation.

President Biden's predecessor, when dealing with the issue of having classified materials, took very different steps. In 2016, Donald Trump declared -- and I quote -- "I'm going to enforce all the laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law" -- end quote.

Yet, when his lawyer told him that it was going to be a crime if he didn't return the classified documents that he had after NARA, the DOJ, and the FBI requested multiple times that Trump returned the classified documents, yet he hid them.

Trump himself acknowledged that the same year that service members have risked their lives to acquire classified intelligence to protect our country, yet he decided that his desire to keep these documents outweighed the potential loss of life for these people if those papers got out.

Not only did Trump have a legal obligation. He also had a moral obligation to all of us, and he failed to live up to that.

Mr. Hur, thank you for being here today. I'd like to talk about your report regarding President Biden and some of your findings. And for the sake of time, if you don't mind just answering yes or no, please answer this question.

Page 187, as your report reads: "At no point did we find evidence that Mr. Biden intended or had reason to believe the information would be used to injure the United States or to benefit a foreign nation." Is this what you reported?

For the sake of time, please answer yes or no.

HUR: Congresswoman, when you said page 187?

MCBATH: Of your report, yes.

HUR: Ah. Yes. At no point did we find evidence. Yes, that language is on page 187.

MCBATH: OK, so then this is what you reported, correct? Yes.

HUR: That language is in my report.


And, Mr. Hur, you acknowledged on page 12 of your report that there are, as you said, numerous previous instances in which marked classified documents have been discovered intermixed with the personal papers of former executive branch officials and members of Congress.

Please, once again, can you confirm for us yes or no, the answer whether this is what you reported?

HUR: That language appears at page 12 of my report.

MCBATH: Page 323 also reads: "As a matter of historical context, there have been numerous previous incidents in which marked classified documents have been discovered intermixed with the personal papers of former executive branch officials and members of Congress."

Is this what you reported? HUR: That language appears at page 323.

MCBATH: Thank you.

Now, it's my understanding that this has happened before where classified documents are swept up into official papers. So, Mr. Hur, aside from Donald Trump, are you aware of similar instances in history where officials who have had these classified documents engaged in a monthslong, elaborate scheme to hide those documents from federal law enforcement officials?

HUR: The one case that comes to mind that we do address in the report is the prosecution of General Petraeus.

MCBATH: So, are these historical examples, aside from Donald Trump, where officials instructed their aides to delete evidence pertaining to those classified documents?

HUR: That was not present in the Petraeus prosecution, no.

MCBATH: So, the American people deserve, as we have always been saying all along here, that we deserve a leader who will not put themselves above the law, but will work with law enforcement and hold themselves accountable.


Thank you, and I yield back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The gentlewoman from Wyoming is recognized.

REP. HARRIET HAGEMAN (R-WY): Special counsel Hur, when you determined that no criminal charges should be brought against President Biden in this matter, you focused on the specific facts surrounding the classified documents, where President Biden stored them and on his memory and age.

You wrote that President Biden's -- quote -- "memory was significantly limited during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017 and during his interview with the special counsel's office in 2023."

You also expressed concern that prospective jurors would be persuaded by President Biden's presentation as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.

Your assessment, however, was focused on how President Biden would currently present to a jury if he stood trial. Is that correct?

HUR: That was an element of my explanation to the attorney general for my decision. It was not the only element.

HAGEMAN: OK, that wasn't my question, but it was one of the things that we were considering was his current state of mind, his current memory, correct?

HUR: One of the things that I considered would be how, if a trial -- whenever a trial theoretically were to be held, how President Biden would present himself to the jury if he elected to testify.


You did not compare President Biden's current memory or condition with his memory or condition when he was in the Senate or when he left the vice presidency and took the classified documents subject to your investigation. Is that right?

HUR: Actually, I believe that's not correct, Congresswoman. One of the things that's in the report is an assessment of the president's memory, based on recordings from the 2016-2017 time frame, recordings of conversations between Mr. Biden and his ghostwriter, and comparing that with the president's memory that he exhibited during our interview of him in October of 2023.

So there was a comparison there.

HAGEMAN: OK, so -- but unless there was some issue undisclosed to the American people during his 50 years in office, you found that Mr. Biden fully understood his legal responsibility related to the handling of classified materials, which is why you concluded in your report that Mr. Biden -- quote -- "willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency, when he was a private citizen."

You state that on page one, correct?

HUR: I believe that what I stated on page one was that we identified evidence that Mr. Biden willfully retained classified information after the end of his vice presidency.

But, ultimately, we concluded that the evidence was insufficient to warrant criminal charges.

HAGEMAN: I understand that. Please listen to my question. What I'm getting at is that Mr. Biden fully understood that he could not keep classified information at his home as both a former senator and vice president. Isn't that right? He understood that, correct?

HUR: My understanding is that, based on the evidence, my assessment was that a jury...

HAGEMAN: That isn't what my question was. Please listen to my question.

My question was that Mr. Biden understood when he was a senator and vice president that he could not keep classified materials at his home, at his garage, and in other offices. Is that fair?

HUR: I don't think that's accurate, Congresswoman, because, when Mr. Biden was vice president, he was authorized to have classified material in his home.

HAGEMAN: But after he left, he knew that he was not entitled to keep classified information at his home, correct? HUR: After he left, there is evidence to suggest that he knew that he

could not legally have classified information at his home. However, there is evidence with respect to his notebooks that he believed he was authorized to keep the notebooks at home, based on precedent.

HAGEMAN: Based on precedent.

I guess the way that I would put it is this. President Biden knew better. He knew that he wasn't entitled to keep these documents when he was a senator, and he knew he wasn't entitled to keep these documents after he had left the vice presidency.

But because he's now suffering from an impaired memory, as you so delicately put it, he got away with it. Is that fair?

HUR: Congresswoman, what I stated in my report is that there's certainly evidence that some jurors could infer to suggest that Mr. Biden willfully retained and disclosed national defense information.

But, in my judgment, the likely outcome of a trial, the probable outcome of a trial was not a conviction.

HAGEMAN: You know, Mr. Hur, I have represented a variety of clients over the years in actions against the federal government over, in fact, several decades of time.

It's been my experience that the federal government, the DOJ specifically, has essentially unlimited resources to go after and prosecute citizens, and will spare absolutely no expense in doing so. It has also been my experience that the DOJ is not only overly aggressive in these cases, but makes it clear that part of the reason for such aggression is to make an example of the poor soul who is the subject of such action, in other words, so that other people will not engage in the same kind of conduct.


Mr. Hur, having been a long-term DOJ prosecutor, can you please explain why those people without the last name of Clinton or Biden are typically treated quite differently and seem to be the only ones who are never held accountable for violating the law?

HUR: Congresswoman, one of the things that I explain in my report is the fact that there are historical precedents with respect to former occupants of the White House and their retention of classified materials after they leave.


HAGEMAN: I'm asking specifically about Mrs. Clinton and -- Mrs. Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlewoman's time has expired.

HUR: Congresswoman, I don't have any opinion to articulate with respect to the investigation relating to Mrs. Clinton. HAGEMAN: I yield back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gentlewoman from Texas is recognized.

REP. VERONICA ESCOBAR (D-TX): Mr. Hur, special counsel Jack Smith has charged Donald Trump with 40 counts related to his unlawful possession of classified documents. The most serious charge carries a penalty of 20 years in prison. According to the Trump indictment, Trump stored those documents at Mar-a-Lago, which -- quote -- "hosted events for tens of thousands of members and guests" -- end quote.

The indictment continues -- quote -- "Trump stored his boxes containing classified documents in various locations at the Mar-a-Lago club, including in a ballroom, a bathroom and a shower, an office space, his bedroom, and a storage room."

Mar-a-Lago is more than a mansion or a compound. It is a club with membership -- with a membership program that sells access to the public. It has hundreds of people moving through it at any given time. Staffing it alone required 150 staff members.

And while those classified national security documents sat in places like his ballroom, Trump hosted more than 150 social events like weddings and movie premieres, which thousands of people attended. In brief, special counsel Smith has alleged that Trump willfully and knowingly took highly classified documents to a location accessible by tens of thousands of people.

Mr. Hur, was President Biden's residence accessible to tens of thousands of people?

HUR: No.

ESCOBAR: Did President Biden ever bring tens of thousands of people into spaces where he stored classified material?

HUR: Not to my knowledge.

ESCOBAR: Did Joe Biden advertise and sell memberships to his home that would allow members of the public to have access?

HUR: Not that I'm aware of.

ESCOBAR: Did your investigation find that Joe Biden ever hosted movie premieres at his home while classified documents were stored there?

HUR: No.

ESCOBAR: Moving on, among the 150 staff members working at Mar-a-Lago was a Trump aide named Walt Nauta.

According to special counsel Smith, Trump ordered Nauta to move boxes of documents so that they could not be found by people looking for them. Mr. Hur, did President Biden ever direct his staff to move documents so that you or the FBI could not find them?

HUR: We did not identify evidence of that.

ESCOBAR: In fact, according to your report, as soon as Bob Bauer discovered material in President Biden's residence, he contacted John Lausch and the president immediately consented to an FBI search of his home. Is that correct?

HUR: My report does state that.

ESCOBAR: And you found no evidence that any documents were moved prior to that search. Is that correct?

HUR: Correct.

ESCOBAR: That's in stark contrast to Donald Trump. President Biden did not obstruct your investigation. He was fully compliant. And with access to the millions of documents he gave you and dozens of hours of witness interviews he facilitated, you were able to fully and totally exonerate him of any criminal wrongdoing.

I thank you, Mr. Hur.

And before I yield back, Mr. Chairman, I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record an excerpt from the committee's transcribed interview with Steven D'Antuono, former assistant director in charge of the FBI Washington field office, on June 7, 2023, in which Mr. D'Antuono explained that the FBI executed a search warrant for classified material at Mar-a-Lago because there was probable cause to believe that Donald Trump did not fully comply with a subpoena to turn over classified documents.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): Without objection.

ESCOBAR: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

JORDAN: Gentleman yields back.

The gentlelady from Florida is recognized.


JORDAN: Oh, excuse me. Gentleman from -- the ranking member is recognized.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): Mr. Chairman, I have three unanimous consent requests.

JORDAN: All right.

NADLER: First, I ask unanimous consent to enter into the record the publisher's Web page for President Biden's 2017 book, "Promise Me Dad," which shows that the book is a deeply moving memoir about the year that President Biden's son Beau died.


JORDAN: OK. Without objection. NADLER: I ask -- I also ask unanimous consent to enter page 97 of Mr.

Hur's report, which says that President Biden's book is not known to contain classified information.

JORDAN: Without objection.

NADLER: Finally, I ask unanimous consent into -- to enter into the record February 5, 2024, a letter from President Biden's counsel to special counsel Hur that clarifies that President Biden's 2017 book -- quote -- "does not contain classified information and there has never been any suggestion to the contrary" -- close quote.

JORDAN: Without objection.

The chair now recognizes the gentlelady from Florida, Ms. Lee.

REP. LAUREL LEE (R-FL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, special counsel Hur, for joining us here today to discuss your investigation regarding President Biden's mishandling of classified documents. This has become an issue of great interest to all Americans and, of course, to all of us here today.

As is outlined in your report, despite the discovery of confidential and top secret records located in the president's personal residence in Delaware, including in his garage, office and basement, the department declined prosecution. And my colleagues' questions today have focused on the highlights from your report, specifically referring to President Biden's mental capacity, his willful disregard for the law as a private citizen, and how he would be perceived if presented to a jury of his peers.

Dependent upon -- and I will use your words from the report -- how this "sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory" handled and managed the storage of these confidential documents, the national security of the United States might have been put at great risk because of the president's behavior.

And so one of the things we must consider today is how we can ensure that our national security will not be continually put at risk when under the leadership of the same well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.

Since the release of the report, to your knowledge, has the Justice Department started to analyze a damage assessment of what may have been disclosed by these documents being mishandled and any ongoing national security risks from the inappropriate storage and retention of the documents.

HUR: Congresswoman, my understanding is that such a damage assessment is under way in coordination and cooperation with the members of the Intelligence community.

LEE: And do you today for us have any information about the status of that investigation or how long it might take to conclude?

HUR: I do not, Congresswoman.

LEE: I'd like to turn your attention to a discussion of the distinction between proving the underlying elements of an offense and the concept of an obstruction of justice charge.

Is it correct, special counsel Hur, that, in some circumstances, as a federal prosecutor, you may investigate the underlying offense, an underlying offense, choose not to charge that offense, but still have developed sufficient evidence to charge a defendant with obstruction of justice?

HUR: I think, as a matter of law, theoretically, that could occur. I can't bring to mind specific examples of that happening. But I suppose that if that were to happen it would be a more difficult case to try from a prosecutor's perspective.

LEE: Well, the elements are distinct, though, are they not?

HUR: They are distinct elements.

LEE: And isn't it -- isn't it similar to a case where a federal prosecutor undergoes an investigation and ultimately doesn't pursue the original charge they were investigating, but, during the course of the investigation, concludes that a false statement was made to a federal law enforcement officer and brings a charge under 1001?

HUR: That could happen.

LEE: Yes. And the -- again, there too the elements would be different?

HUR: Correct.

LEE: And in reaching your final decision related to the declination or the recommendation to decline prosecution, you considered both the underlying elements of the offenses at issue and also the principles of federal prosecution. Is that right?

HUR: Correct.

LEE: Now, the principles of federal prosecution, those are things that may vary case to case. Is that right?

HUR: The determinations under the principles of federal prosecution are very fact- and circumstance- dependent.

LEE: But the elements of the criminal offense are not. Isn't that also correct?

HUR: Elements are defined by law, and they do not vary from case to case.

LEE: And thus those elements of the underlying criminal offense would be exactly the same from one defendant to the next to the next. Isn't that right?

HUR: Yes.

LEE: So you would expect, would you not, that a prosecutor who was considering the underlying offenses that you were considering here would be looking at exactly the same elements and requirements of proof that you did on the underlying charges?

HUR: Prosecutors assessing their cases under the same statutes must consider the same elements with respect to those statutes.

LEE: All right. Thank you, special counsel Hur.

And then, if we could turn back to the concept of those principles of federal prosecution, those are the additional factors, aggravating or mitigating, that you might consider in ultimately reaching a charging decision here. Is that right?