COMMENTARY: Special Counsel inserts himself unnecessarily in ’24 campaign

By Berl Falbaum

The warped political spirit of James Brien Comey, Jr. lives on.

He has been reincarnated in the person of Robert Kyoung Hur, the U.S. special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick B. Garland to investigate Joe Biden’s handling of classified materials after leaving the vice presidency.

First, some relevant political history.

In 2016, Comey, as FBI director, was investigating the use of private emails by Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state.  At the time of the investigation, she was the Democratic presidential candidate running against the Republican Donald Trump.  She was the hands-down favorite to win.

 In July, Comey announced that the FBI found no criminality on the part of Clinton, stating that there was no evidence that Clinton intentionally transmitted or willfully mishandled classified information. Thus, charges were not warranted.

But on October 28, 2016, just 11 days before the November 8 election, when Comey dropped a bombshell by writing to Congress that he was reopening the Clinton investigation. Then, just a few days before the vote, he again exonerated Clinton.

However, the damage was done and many, including Clinton, believed Comey cost her the presidency.

Now, fast forward some 7 ½ years and we have Hur, repeating Comey’s political sabotage, in his year-long investigation of Biden.

In his 350-page report last week, Hur concluded that “no criminal charges are warranted in this matter.” Biden’s action did not establish criminality beyond a reasonable doubt, he maintained.

Despite this conclusion, Hur added that the investigation "uncovered evidence that Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen.”

The materials included "marked classified documents about military and foreign policy in Afghanistan, and notebooks containing Mr. Biden's handwritten entries about issues of national security and foreign policy implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods."

Hur said FBI agents recovered the materials from "the garages, offices, and basement den in Mr. Biden's Wilmington, Delaware home."

Fair enough. Those are acceptable and important facts about the investigation. If only Hur had left it there.

For whatever reason, Hur abandoned his legal examination and added, inexplicably, hard-heartedly and unnecessarily, that Biden is a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and it would have been “difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him…of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”

Apparently unable to stop himself, Hur added that Biden’s memory was “significantly limited” and his “memory appeared lazy.” He said Biden demonstrated “diminished faculties and faulty memory.”

If that were not enough, with insensitivity that is hard to comprehend, and seemingly wanting to cause the president pain, Hur wrote gratuitously:

“He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died."

(Beau Biden died at 46 of brain cancer in 2015.)

Even in the no-holds barred nature of national politics, this went beyond the pale.  Hur did not offer legal reasoning for his conclusion not to charge Biden. Instead, he based his decision on a political rationale, and an ugly one at that.

New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman, obviously angry, wrote that to imply Biden suffers some mental deterioration because he could not remember the year his son died in the midst of a world crisis (Gaza) is “disgusting.” One letter writer to The Times called it a “political hit job.”

Biden, enraged and emotional, responded at a hastily called press conference just hours after the report’s release to the public.

In remarks that surely touched any parent and anyone with a sense of humanity and decency, the president, close to tears, said:

"How in the hell dare he raise that? Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it was none of their damn business.

“Every Memorial Day we hold a service remembering him, attended by friends and family and the people who loved him. I don't need anyone to remind me when he passed away.”

The president pointed out that he still wears a rosary on his wrist which belonged to his late son. He appeared to choke up.

The GOP, of course, wasted no time exploiting Hur’s report, endlessly quoting Hur on Biden’s alleged diminished mental acuity. And, we can expect the report to be cited in political advertising when the expected Biden-Trump rematch takes off later this year. Trump and his loyalists are not exactly known for compassion.

Perhaps Hur was never able to purge himself of Trumpism politics.  After all, he was appointed by Trump to oversee one of the largest U.S. Attorney's offices in the nation as the chief federal law enforcement officer in Maryland from 2018 to 2021.

Regrettably, Biden should have waited to respond until he had his emotions under control.  At the press conference, he gave his critics more ammunition when, discussing the Hamas-Israel war, he mistakenly referred to the president of Egypt, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, as the president of Mexico.

The good news? The controversy will probably fade -- at least somewhat -- as the campaign heats up although we can be confident that Republicans will do all it can to keep the Hur report before the electorate. Also, while the Comey crisis occurred just 11 days before the election, we still have nine months before this year’s vote.

However, we can be confident of the following: Hur will take his place, next to Comey, in the infested swamps of American presidential campaign history.
Berl Falbaum is a long time political journalist and author.