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White House fights back against age comments in Biden probe

By AFP

February 10, 2024 12:40 PM


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The White House launched a fierce pushback Friday against a brutal special counsel report portraying Joe Biden as elderly and forgetful, describing it as a political hit-job on the president in an election year.

US Vice President Kamala Harris called the stinging report "politically motivated" while White House spokesman Ian Sams branded it "gratuitous and inappropriate" as they sought to call its impartiality into question.

Biden refused to answer questions on the report as he hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in the Oval Office for talks on Ukraine Friday, but the night before he responded furiously to the report's findings.

The investigation cleared the 81-year-old Democrat of illegally retaining classified documents in his home and garage -- but damningly branded him as a "well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory."

Biden's supporters and aides rushed to defend him on Friday on an issue he's long been vulnerable on as he bids for reelection in November, most likely against Republican Donald Trump.

"The way that the president's demeanor in that report was characterized could not be more wrong on the facts and (was) clearly politically motivated," Harris said when asked about the report.

In a rambling address Friday to a National Rifle Association event, the 77-year-old Trump said of Biden's mental state: "I don't think he knows he's alive."

- 'Gratuitous and inappropriate' -

With questions swirling about Biden's mental acuity, the spotlight is also on Harris as she would be first in line to succeed as president should he resign or be incapacitated.

Both Biden and Harris are suffering from low approval ratings as they campaign for another four years in the White House.

The White House strategy appeared to be to start directly targeting special counsel Robert Hur, a Republican who was appointed by then-president Trump to be US attorney for the District of Maryland in 2017.

But it was Biden's own attorney general Merrick Garland who named Hur as special counsel in the documents case.

Democratic Senator John Fetterman, who won a high-profile victory in the key swing state of Pennsylvania in the 2022 midterms, nevertheless said Hur had an agenda as a "Trump appointee."

"It was just a smear and cheap shot," he said of the report.

Facing a barrage of questions from reporters, Sams, spokesman for the White House Counsel's Office, said that the report contained "gratuitous and inappropriate criticisms."

He stopped short of saying Hur was partisan but suggested the investigator felt under pressure to "go beyond his remit" because of the polarized US political scene.

"We're in a very pressurized political environment. And when you are the first special counsel in history not to indict anybody, there is pressure to criticize," he said.

- 'Angry' -

Other allies also rushed to defend the president. Biden's Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the criticisms of Biden as old and feeble-minded did not "live in reality."

Describing him as a "mentor," she added: "No one in this building would say that what we saw in this report about his memory."

Republicans have called on Biden to resign. Trump, who faces criminal charges over his retention of classified documents and then refusal to cooperate with investigators, has accused the Department of Justice of double standards.

Biden gave his own furious response from the White House on Thursday night, particularly lambasting the special counsel for claiming that he was unable to remember when his son Beau had died.

"To suggest that he couldn't remember when his son died is really out of bounds," added Sams.

But the president added to his woes by mixing up the presidents of Egypt and Mexico, while speaking sharply to reporters who challenged him about the report.

Democratic congressman Adam Smith admitted that Biden's remarks "didn't go well" because he was "angry," suggesting that his campaign must do better to get its election message across.


AFP


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