- By Anthony Churcher
- North American Correspondent
It is a political grenade disguised as a 345-page report.
The pyrotechnics were presented Thursday afternoon in the findings of special counsel Robert Hurn's investigation into Joe Biden's handling of classified documents after he left the vice presidency in 2017.
The high-profile decision was that the president would not face criminal charges for his actions, despite evidence that he “intentionally retained and disclosed classified material while a private citizen.”
The bottom line was the most affected. Among the reasons Mr Hur listed was why he decided not to prosecute the 81-year-old president because he would be sympathetic to a jury, who would see him as a “well-intentioned, elderly man.”
Issues about Joe Biden's age and eligibility to serve another four years in office have been simmering for as long as Mr. Biden has been in the White House, so this latest revelation will fuel Republican attacks and spark concern among some Democrats. Not up to the task.
It's a narrative the Biden campaign is desperately trying to counter, said Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion.
“Polling, over and over again, we're seeing data points that voters think is his biggest liability in this election,” he says.
If so, the Hur report prompted the White House to launch a furious counter-attack, in which the president held an impromptu press conference where he insisted his memory was “good.”
“I know what I'm doing,” he said.
Moreover, the Special Counsel adduced specific evidence to support this assertion. During two days of interviews, he wrote, Mr. Biden was often unable to recall details related to the investigation. More than that, Mr. Harr recounted, he struggled to remember the years he was vice president and when his eldest son, Beau Biden, died of cancer.
It was this last claim that prompted an angry response from the president during a press conference at the White House on Thursday evening.
“How the hell did he dare bring that up?” The President said.
However, the press conference could give more fuel to attacks on Mr Biden as the president responded to a question about the Gaza war by referring to Egyptian President Mohamed al-Sisi as the president of Mexico.
That blunder, unlike Mr. Biden's other verbal gaffes in recent days, exposes the scope of the challenge to his re-election bid. The best way for the president to address concerns about his age is to campaign aggressively and increase his public exposure. But each attempt comes with evidence that the actions are dangerous or feed into existing concerns.
The White House has made other efforts to temper the impact of the Hur report. Mr Biden's personal lawyer, Richard Saber, tried to convince the special counsel to drop references to Mr Biden's mental acuity and mental disabilities, writing in a letter that such language was neither “accurate nor appropriate”.
Mr. Biden also noted that he gave two days of testimony to the special counsel after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel — when he was “in the middle of dealing with an international crisis,” he said.
Other Biden allies have pushed back at Mr Harr's impartiality, pointing out that he was appointed to the US attorney's office by Donald Trump in 2017. However, it was Biden Attorney General Merrick Garland who chose Mr Har as special counsel.
The Biden team was also quick to attack the verbal misdeeds of his November opponent, 77-year-old Donald Trump. The former president recently confused his primary opponent, Nikki Haley, with former Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and referred to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán as Turkey's leader.
The White House's best case is that this particular grenade went off in February, a full nine months from Election Day.
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said concerns about Mr Biden's age were already in the race, making the report damaging but not fatal.
The public will “look at it and raise an eyebrow, not both,” he says. “Because, in a way, people already knew this. Even if you just watched five minutes of his speech, you already knew it,” he says.
When American voters finally go to the polls, claims in a special counsel's report that refused to find Mr. Biden a criminal suspect will be less of a concern than issues like the economy and abortion.
On the other hand, the worst-case scenario is that this is the start of a cavalcade that undermines one of the president's weakest attributes. The arrow of time only points one way.
The President is not young.