Garland dismisses criticism that he should have altered Hur report as “absurd”

Washington — Attorney General Merrick Garland dismisses suggestions that he should have altered portions of former special counsel Robert Hur’s report about President Biden’s handling of classified records, saying the notion that he would censor Hur’s findings was “absurd.”

“The idea that an attorney general would edit or redact or censor the special counsel’s explanation for why the special counsel reached the decision the special counsel did — that’s absurd,” Garland said at the Justice Department on Thursday, his first public comment since Hur was released his report in February.

His comments are notable since Garland — a former federal judge — rarely addresses his critics in public. Instead, he typically says he prefers to let the work of the Justice Department speak for itself.

Attorney General Merrick Garland holds a news conference at the Department of Justice on Thursday, March 21, 2024.
Attorney General Merrick Garland holds a news conference at the Department of Justice on Thursday, March 21, 2024.

Nathan Howard/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hur’s year-long investigation began after the discovery of documents with classified markings in Mr. Biden’s home and office, records that date from his time as vice president and in the Senate. In his report, Hur concluded that no criminal charges were warranted, but criticized the president’s recordkeeping and wrote that a jury would likely view him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

Hur’s characterization of Mr. Biden’s memory elicited fierce criticism from the president and his allies. Mr Biden pushed back soon after the report was released, saying his memory was “fine” and faulting Hur for including “extraneous commentary” that “has no place in this report.”

Some of Mr. Biden’s defenders argued Garland should have stepped in to remove the unflattering descriptions. Mr Biden’s attorney received a draft of the report before it was released, and wrote letters to Hur and Garland objecting to the description of the president’s memory.

In a Feb. 7 letters to the attorney general, White House counsel Edward Siskel and the president’s personal attorney Bob Bauer argued that some of Hur’s descriptions violated Justice Department policy, and said the “pejorative” language was “uncalled for and unfounded.”

A career Justice Department officially rejected the objections from Mr. Biden’s legal team, writing on behalf of Garland that the passages were “neither gratuitous nor unduly prejudicial.”

The transcript of Hur’s October interview withMr. Biden was released shortly before Hur determinative before Congress earlier this month and provided a fuller picture of the five-hour conversation. While Mr. Biden did stumble over several dates and struggled to find several words, he also recalled many specific details from years earlier.

For his part, Hur told lawmakers that Garland “did not interfere with my efforts, and I was able to conduct a fair and thorough and independent investigation.”

On Thursday, the attorney general noted that he had pledged to release the reports of all special counsel appointed during his tenure — including special counsel Jack Smith, who is currently investigating former President Donald Trump — consistent with department policy and regulations.

Responding to a question about critics of his handling of the Hur report, Garland said “no one from the White House” had told him that he should have intervened. He said the president “intended to restore the independence and the integrity of the Justice Department” when he nominated him to become attorney general.

“He wanted me to serve as the attorney for the American people, not the attorney for the president,” Garland said. “I sincerely believe that’s what he intended then, and I sincerely believe that’s what he intends now.”

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