US President Joe Biden responded angrily at the findings of an investigation that found he mishandled top secret files which were found in his garage and that he had significant memory problems.
“My memory is fine,” he insisted in a surprise news briefing.
He gave an emotional response to a claim that he could not recollect when his son died, saying: “How the hell dare he raise that?”
But just minutes later during his brief address to the nation Thursday night, Biden, 81, brought up the Israel-Hamas war and said he worked with the president of Mexico to help send aid into the war zone.
“As you know, initially, the president of Mexico Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in [to Gaza],” Biden said. “I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate.”
Biden had failed to mention President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi is from Egypt and isn’t Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, two men the US president has met in recent years.
The mix-up had come jsut minutes after Biden said his memory was “fine” in response to a scathing report released earlier in the day from special counsel Robert Hur on Biden’s mishandling of classified documents.
The inquiry into the mishandling of documents found Mr Biden “wilfully retained and disclosed” classified files, but decided not to charge him.
Department of Justice Special Counsel Robert Hur determined Mr Biden had improperly kept classified documents related to military and foreign policy in Afghanistan after serving as vice-president.
The scathing 345-page report, released earlier in the day, said the president’s memory had “significant limitations”.
Asked to comment on the latest in the Israel-Gaza war, he said: “I think as you know initially, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in.”
Mr Hur interviewed the 81-year-old president over five hours as part of the inquiry.
The special counsel, a Republican appointed to the role by Biden attorney general Merrick Garland, said Mr Biden could not recall when he was vice-president (from 2009 to 2017), or “even within several years, when his son Beau died” (2015).
At Thursday night’s news conference, an emotional Mr Biden lashed out at the passages casting doubt on his recollection of events.
“Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, was none of their damn business,” he said.
He said he was “very (pre)occupied… in the middle of handling an international crisis” when he was interviewed by the special counsel from 8-9 October last year – just as the Israel-Gaza war erupted.
The inquiry also said Mr Biden had shared some of the sensitive material from hand-written notebooks with a ghostwriter for his memoir, a finding that the president denied from the podium.
The special counsel concluded it would be difficult to convict the president of improper handling of files because “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”.
Opinion polls indicate the president’s age is a concern for US voters ahead of November’s White House election. But Mr Biden told reporters on Thursday he was the most qualified candidate.
“I am well-meaning,” he said. “And am elderly. I know what the hell I’m doing. I put this country back on its feet.
Asked whether he took responsibility for having classified documents in his home, Mr Biden blamed his staff.
He said he didn’t know they had put sensitive memos in his garage, where the special counsel says they were located next to a dog bed.
A BBC reporter at the White House’s Diplomatic Reception Room described the atmosphere as tense.
When one journalist said the American people were concerned about his age, Mr Biden raised his voice in reply: “That is your judgement, that is your judgement.”
He insisted that his memory is “fine” and “has not gotten worse” during his presidency.
Mr Biden’s legal team also criticised the special counsel’s remarks about Mr Biden’s apparent memory lapses.
“The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events,” wrote White House lawyer Richard Sauber in a letter attached to the report.
The top secret files were found at Mr Biden’s house in Wilmington, Delaware, and former private office from 2022-23.
The discovery came after a separate investigation charged former President Donald Trump, 77, with mishandling classified documents following his departure from the White House. He faces a trial in that case this May.
The Hur report distinguishes between both cases, saying Mr Biden handed over the documents to government archivists, while Mr Trump “allegedly did the opposite”.
Source: BBC News.