A fiery President Joe Biden on Thursday night defended his mental capacity for the job and angrily questioned why the special counsel would write in his report that he couldn’t recall when his son Beau died.
“I don’t need anyone, anyone, to remind me when he passed away,” Biden said of the special counsel. “How the hell dare he raise that.”
“Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, was it any of their damn business?” the president said in quickly organized remarks Thursday night to reporters from the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House.
“The simple truth is that I sat for five hours, two days, over events going back 40 years. At the same time I was managing a national crisis,” he said of his sit down with Special Counsel Robert Hur, the author of the damning report.
Biden insisted “my memory is fine,” although he later mistakenly referred to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as the leader of Mexico when he answered a reporter’s question about the Israel-Hamas war.
Biden also stressed he did not break the law in his handling of classified information from his time as vice president.
“I’ve seen headlines since the report was released about my willful retention of documents. This assertion is not only misleading, it’s just plain wrong,” Biden said.
The president claimed responsibility for not seeing “exactly” what his staff had done with the documents found in his home.
His comments came hours after the release of a special counsel report on his handling of classified documents. That report concluded that no criminal charges were warranted but did so, in large part, by saying a jury would be sympathetic to Biden, who was described as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”
The president pushed back when a reporter asked about that description: “I’m well meaning, and I’m an elderly man, and I know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve been president and I put this country back on its feet,” he said.
Privately, Biden was livid over the Hur report, particularly the claim that he did not remember when his son Beau died, according to two people familiar with his remarks and granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.
Earlier Thursday, Biden traveled to a retreat of House Democrats and claimed exoneration. Before he took the stage, he angrily cursed to lawmakers about the language in the report, according to one of the people.
White House officials were angered by the special counsel report, believing that Hur far exceeded his purview with comments about Biden’s memory. Two senior officials, granted anonymity to speak about internal deliberations, believed Hur should have stuck to the task of determining wrongdoing or not. They drew references to how former FBI director James Comey cleared Hillary Clinton of wrongdoing during the 2016 campaign but still delivered a scathing assessment of her behavior in a public press conference.
Though infuriated by the report, Biden’s aides also realized that its claims highlighted his biggest weakness: his age and questions about his mental acuity. And they braced themselves for another wave of stories about Biden’s age even though they noted that Donald Trump, his likely general election opponent, was not only committing his own share of verbal gaffes — but also faced a slew of criminal indictments.
At his press conference, Biden showed some of that anger he’d exhibited privately earlier. He went after the press for, in his estimation, pushing the idea that he was mentally not up to the task. He also declined to entertain the idea that he should step aside as the prohibitive Democratic favorite to take on Trump.
“I’m the most qualified person in this country to be president of the United States and finish the job I started,” he said.