Thu. Apr 25th, 2024

Biden aides weigh the political fallout if a transcript of his special counsel interview is released

By 37ci3 Feb15,2024

WASHINGTON — The investigation into President Joe Biden’s handling of classified material is officially closed as a legal matter, but the political battle is just beginning.

At the heart of the battle: the contents of special counsel Robert Huron’s five-hour interview with the president.

According to two people familiar with the discussions, Biden’s aides expect a lengthy partisan battle over the transcript and possibly the audio, which will keep the president on the defensive against questions about his mental fitness as he campaigns for re-election. The interview was more of a free-flowing discussion than those detailed in Huron’s report, these people said.

They said Biden’s team is now considering how best to position the president to deal with the lingering fallout from Huron’s report, which described him as an “old man with a failing memory” and cited his interview responses as evidence.

Internal discussions among Biden aides have focused on how the transcript of his interview could help prevent him from damaging him politically when it comes to voters’ concerns about his age, people familiar with the discussions said.

Another issue is whether it makes strategic sense to release specific points in the interview to avoid answering questions about Biden’s handling of classified material or his mental health — to the extent that the release of the entire transcript or full disclosure can be avoided. he said he was familiar with the discussions.

They said that no final decision has been made regarding the approach.

House Republicans on Monday asked the Justice Department to release any transcripts and notes from the meeting to the three House committees — the Ways and Means, Judiciary and Oversight committees — by 5 p.m. Monday.

The Justice Department is expected to ask for time to review the request to make sure all shares are protected, including classified material and a review of executive privilege by the White House.

The White House and the Justice Department declined to comment.

Biden’s aides have already chosen to release certain parts of the not-yet-public interview to highlight their public defense.

Biden’s personal attorney, Bob Bauer, said in a television interview last Sunday, for example, that Hur began the interview by “thanking the president for making this scheduled appointment” because the meeting could have been rescheduled given that Hamas had launched a terrorist attack. against Israel a few hours ago.

“Then he goes on to say, ‘I’m going to take you through what happened years ago.’ He mentions it. “So all I can ask for is your best memory,” Bauer said in Hur’s opening comments.

An audio recording of the interview is available, but there is no video component, according to two people familiar with the material.

The White House said the transcript of Biden’s interview was in the process of being declassified, but did not say how long that process would take.

Two people familiar with the material said most of the lengthy transcript did not require redaction for classification reasons. But any public release of it could still take considerable time, they said, because of other hurdles.

Consideration of a declassification could require sending parts of the interview deemed sensitive for access to various government agencies, including the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, a person familiar with the process said.

The transcript would typically be evaluated by law enforcement officials, such as the Secret Service, for security sensitivity because the interview includes discussion of details such as security measures at the president’s home in Delaware, the person said.

In addition, the interview may contain key material — which was more of a free discussion than a transcript of the report, the person said — that would have included discussions by the Obama administration and senior government officials.

And even after the declassification process is complete, the White House would still have to sign off on releasing the transcript to the public, and could invoke executive privilege or cite privacy concerns to prevent parts from being released.

The White House accepted Huron’s main conclusion that Biden should not be prosecuted. But the president’s aides and allies sharply criticized and rejected the special counsel’s characterization of Biden as a “sympathetic, well-intentioned old man with a failing memory” during the recall and interview.

If released, the transcripts could be fodder for the president’s critics, who seek to make him unfit for office because of his mental capacity, and could reinforce the narrative that Biden is too old to serve another four years.

In their letter requesting transcripts and records of Biden’s interview, House Republicans argued that the president’s handling of classified documents is key to their investigation of Biden and will help them determine whether there is enough evidence to support the drafting of articles of impeachment.

The White House described this step as a purely political step and emphasized that the special prosecutor has been investigating the matter for more than a year.

Historically, after an investigation is closed, the Department of Justice makes evidence from that investigation available to Congress upon request and made available to the public through a public information request, except for reasons prohibiting disclosure, including classification, sensitive law enforcement materials, and privacy concerns.

The White House counsel’s office declined to prioritize any of the special counsel’s nearly 400-page report last week.

Huron’s interview with Biden took place over two days, on Oct. 8 and 9, just hours after the terrorist attacks in Israel that White House officials are quick to point out — required much of the president’s time and attention.

In addition to the interview transcripts, House Republicans are requesting any documents and communications related to Huron Biden’s interview with ghost writer Mark Zvonitzer.

The GOP-led committees have also asked Hur to testify before Congress, though no date has been set.

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By 37ci3

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