One of the most difficult conversations you can have in life is with a parent or peer who is becoming too old and infirm to work. Whether the infirmity is physical or mental, often your loved one is the last person to realize his own deficiencies, so he may interpret respectful, genuine concern as a personal attack.
This conversation is difficult enough when it’s conducted entirely in private with friends and family. It’s infinitely more difficult when it plays out in public and involves the president of the United States.
The top-line conclusion of the special counsel Robert Hur’s report regarding the discovery of classified information at Joe Biden’s home is good for the president. It found, in no uncertain terms, that “no criminal charges are warranted in this matter.” It said prosecution would be inappropriate “even if Department of Justice policy did not foreclose criminal charges against a sitting president.” The report even did the president the favor of clearly and unequivocally distinguishing his treatment of classified materials from Donald Trump’s vastly worse misconduct in his own retention-of-documents case.
But the report presented what may be a worse assessment for Biden than the matter of guilt, which is its description of one reason he won’t be prosecuted: The special counsel found that Biden lacked the requisite degree of criminal willfulness in part because of his fading memory. The report characterized him as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and said he had “diminished faculties in advancing age.” To bolster this assertion, the report provided some damaging details, including claims that Biden couldn’t remember the dates when he was vice president and couldn’t remember “even within several years” when his son Beau died.
The report understandably angered Biden, but in a fiery news conference after the report was released, he confused the president of Egypt with the president of Mexico. In isolation, the gaffe was minor — less serious, for instance, than Donald Trump recently confusing Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi — but the timing was terrible. The mistake, coming on the heels of two incidents in recent days in which Biden confused French and German leaders with their deceased predecessors, only served to bolster the special counsel’s conclusions.
Democratic partisans may be furious that the special counsel was so blunt about Biden’s memory. But willfulness and intent are necessary elements of the underlying crimes, so Hur had to explore Biden’s mental state, and include illustrative details.