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(Bloomberg) -- A special counsel report describing Joe Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory” and chronicling repeated occasions where the president struggled to recall basic facts is likely to deepen concerns about his age as he heads into a tough reelection battle.
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The report from Special Counsel Robert Hur, who was investigating Biden’s handling of classified material, offers a jarring portrait of the president’s acuity. Biden, 81, is described forgetting when his term as vice president ended, the general timeframe in which his son Beau died from cancer, and the details of critical foreign policy debates during the Obama administration.
The revelations came after an already tough week for Biden that included a series of high-profile gaffes in which he mistook long-dead European leaders for their living counterparts while speaking to supporters and donors on the campaign trail.
Voters have indicated that concerns about Biden’s age rank among their biggest concerns heading into an expected 2024 rematch with former President Donald Trump, the Republican frontrunner. Three-quarters of voters, including half of Democrats, said in an NBC News poll released earlier this week that they had concerns about Biden’s mental and physical health.
Those concerns are unlikely to be assuaged by the special counsel report released Thursday, which cleared Biden of criminal wrongdoing after the discovery of classified materials at his home and personal office. Trump’s campaign pounced on the issue shortly after the release of the report.
“If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president,” Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for Trump’s political action committee, said in a statement.
The special counsel describes Biden’s conversations with a researcher helping him write a book ahead of his presidential run as “painfully slow,” with the president “struggling to remember events and straining at times to read and relay his own notebook entries.”
Hur says Biden’s memory was worse during an interview with prosecutors, saying he stumbled repeatedly to recall basic facts.
“In a case where the government must prove that Mr. Biden knew he had possession of the classified Afghanistan documents after the vice presidency and chose to keep those documents, knowing he was violating the law, we expect that at trial, his attorneys would emphasize these limitations in his recall,” Hur wrote.
It “would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him – by then a former president well into his eighties – of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness,” Hur added.
Attorneys for Biden criticized the report, suggesting that Hur, a former US attorney who was nominated by Trump, offered excessive details and editorialized in his report.
The report included “a number of inaccurate and inappropriate comments,” Biden attorney Richard Sauber said in a statement. In a letter to the special counsel, Sauber said Hur “uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events.”
Multiple White House aides noted that Hur’s interview of Biden occurred the day after the Oct. 7 militant attack on Israel, implying he may have been distracted by matters of state.
And Bob Bauer, the president’s personal attorney, accused Hur of “investigative excess” that flouted Justice Department regulations and norms.
“Very little in this opus adds to a clear, succinctly stated understanding of a straightforward conclusion: No misconduct occurred, no charges are warranted,” Bauer said.
The report was released just hours after White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended Biden’s campaign-trail gaffes.
In recent days, Biden repeatedly botched a story about his first Group of Seven summit after taking office in 2021, first conflating French President Emmanuel Macron with Francois Mitterrand, who died in 1996, and later confusing then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel for Helmut Kohl.
Jean-Pierre dismissed concerns about Biden’s misstatements, noting recent instances when House Speaker Mike Johnson mistook Iran for Israel and Fox News host Sean Hannity confused former Representative Jason Chaffetz for Matt Gaetz.
“Many people, they can misspeak sometimes,” Jean-Pierre said.
Billionaire investor Bill Ackman, who has endorsed Representative Dean Phillips’s long-shot challenge to Biden for the Democratic nomination, highlighted the special counsel report on X, formerly Twitter.
“Biden is done. There is no chance he will run for another term,” Ackman wrote.
Biden may also benefit from Trump’s long history of similar verbal gaffes.
Trump, 77, in recent months has confused both Hungarian leader Viktor Orban with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Republican rival Nikki Haley for former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
--With assistance from Amanda Gordon.
(Updates to add Ackman comments in paragraphs 20-21)
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