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In a Feb. 8 news conference, President Joe Biden rebutted findings in Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report.
Biden repeated misleading and inaccurate statements about the documents — including how documents were stored in lockable cabinets in his home and who the material was shared with — that the report contradicts.
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In a Feb. 8 press conference responding to Special Counsel Robert Hur’s classified documents report, President Joe Biden made misleading and inaccurate statements about the documents — including how documents were stored in lockable cabinets in his home and who the material was shared with — points the report contradicts.
Here are Biden’s statements and what the special counsel reported.
"All the stuff that was in my home was in filing cabinets that were either locked or able to be locked."
Although the report includes photos showing that some of the recovered classified materials were in filing cabinets, Biden’s claim that they "all" were is incorrect and does not match the details of the special counsel’s report.
The report said investigators found classified documents from 2009 stored in a "badly damaged box surrounded by household detritus," such as a collapsed dog crate, a broken map and potting soil in the garage of Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home. The documents, which were related to U.S. foreign policy in Afghanistan, had classification markings "up to the Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information level," one of the highest levels of classification.
The report includes photos of the cardboard box that it said contained "numerous hanging folders, file folders, and binders" and was "in a mangled state with ripped corners and two top flaps torn off."
A Feb. 5 letter to Hur from the White House counsel that was appended to the released report acknowledged how the documents in the garage were stored: "The evidence shows that this tattered box contained a random assortment of documents, including plainly unimportant ones." The letter did not rebut the presence of the classified documents but pushed back on the report’s characterization that the box contained materials of "great personal significance."
Classified materials from the 1970s, when Biden was a senator, also were found in boxes in a garage closet of his Delaware home.
The report said notebooks Biden kept while serving as vice president were found in other parts of the home, such as in "unlocked drawers in the office and basement den."
Some of the notebooks were in file cabinets, photographs show, but whether the cabinets were "able to be locked," as Biden said, was not addressed. The report describes the place where the notebooks were found as "unlocked drawers." The notebooks contained classified information — sometimes on classified subjects, such as the President’s Daily Brief — and in other instances, the notes themselves were classified.
When questioned about Biden’s locked cabinets claim in a Feb. 9 press briefing, White House Counsel spokesperson Ian Sams said, "I think the president was replying to a number of inaccurate allegations in this report."
"I did not share classified information … with my ghostwriter, I did not. Guarantee you, did not."
Biden repeatedly told reporters this about his ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer, who worked on Biden’s 2017 memoir, "Promise Me, Dad." When a reporter countered that the special counsel said he had, Biden cut him off: "Well, no, he did not say that. He did not say that."
Hur did say that. The report said Biden shared classified information with Zwontizer from notes he’d taken related to classified subjects such as the President's Daily Brief and National Security Council meetings. Hur said no classified material appeared in Biden’s book.
The special counsel wrote that there’s evidence Biden knew the notebooks contained classified material, as he "sometimes skipped over notebook passages to avoid reading classified information," when reading entries aloud during meetings with Zwontizer.
Hur said Biden read to Zwontizer from classified entries "nearly verbatim" on at least three occasions, sometimes for an hour or more, but said evidence didn’t show that Biden knew the passages were classified or that he intended to share classified information.
The report said after Zwonitzer learned of the investigation, he deleted audio recordings of his conversations with Biden. However, Zwonitzer turned over to the FBI his laptop computer and external hard drive and consented to a search. FBI technicians were able to recover deleted recordings.
The report says Biden kept a handwritten memo he sent to former President Barack Obama over Thanksgiving in 2009 and mentioned it to Zwonitzer.
"In a recorded conversation with his ghostwriter in February 2017, about a month after he left office, Mr. Biden said, while referring to his 2009 Thanksgiving memo, that he had ‘just found all the classified stuff downstairs,’" the report stated. The report doesn’t say that Biden gave Zwonitzer physical custody of the material.
In his press conference, Biden didn’t address the classified material that he read to Zwontizer from his notebooks, but was adamant that the Obama memo didn’t include classified material. He said he should have instead used the word "sensitive" or "private" to describe it when talking to Zwonitzer.
"The fact of the matter is, what I didn't want repeated, I didn't want him to know and I didn't read it to him, was I had written a long memorandum to President Obama why we should not be in … in Afghanistan," Biden told reporters. "And I was — it was multiple pages. And so, what I was referring to, I said classified, I should have said it was — should be private because it was a contact between a president and a vice president as to what was going on. That's what he’s referring to. It was not classified information in that document. That was not classified."
During the press briefing, Sams, the White House counsel spokesperson, characterized the Obama memo as Biden’s "own personal writings" that Biden was sharing with Zwontizer for the memoir.
"I’ve seen headlines since the report was released about my willful retention of documents. This … assertion is not only misleading but just plain wrong."
This is more complicated than Biden described.
Hur’s report says the investigation "uncovered evidence that President Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen."
It cites two categories of material: classified documents about Afghanistan, and handwritten notebooks that included references to sensitive intelligence sources and methods. Biden’s actions, the report said, "risked serious damage to America's national security."
This portion of the report suggests that the special counsel team believed Biden had committed a crime. But the special counsel was tasked not only with finding facts, but also with deciding whether at least one charge should be prosecuted in court.
In this case, the special counsel decided against prosecution, figuring that Biden could win over enough jurors to be found not guilty at trial, dooming the unanimous verdict required for a conviction.
"None of it was high classified. It didn’t have any of that red stuff on it, you know what I mean, around the corners? None of that."
We rate Biden’s claim False.
Intelligence experts told PolitiFact that there is no legal definition for information that is highly or "high classified." However, the special counsel report details that multiple Biden documents included classification markers for "top secret," the highest of the three classification levels.
An expert in national security cases said Biden’s claim about "red stuff" around the corners probably referred to cover pages often put on top of classified documents to signal that classified materials are inside. It’s unclear whether the special counsel found documents with these cover sheets. But experts clarified that not every document has a cover sheet.
PolitiFact Senior Correspondent Louis Jacobson and Staff Writer Maria Ramirez Uribe contributed to this report.
C-SPAN, President Biden Delivers Remarks on Special Counsel's Report, Feb. 8, 2024
U.S. Attorney’s Office, Special counsel report in Biden classified documents case, Feb. 8, 2024
CNN, "Takeaways from special counsel’s report into Biden’s handling of classified documents," Feb. 8, 2024
White House press briefing, Feb. 9, 2024