HARRISBURG, Pa. — Republican front-runner Donald Trump said the charges accusing him of mishandling classified documents should be dropped now that a special counsel investigation declined to charge President Biden, mischaracterizing the alleged conduct underlying both cases.
“If he’s not going to be charged, that’s up to them,” Trump said in a speech Friday to a National Rifle Association expo here. “But then I should not be charged.”
Trump’s remarks came a day after special counsel Robert K. Hur concluded that Biden carelessly kept classified documents and notebooks at his home but said the evidence wasn’t strong enough to charge the president with crimes. Hur’s report specified how Biden alerted authorities, voluntarily returned records and consented to searches, whereas special counsel Jack Smith’s indictment against Trump accused the former president of refusing to return records and enlisting others to destroy evidence.
“Several material distinctions between Mr. Trump’s case and Mr. Biden’s are clear,” Hur wrote in his report released Thursday. “Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite.”
According to Smith’s indictment, Trump told his staff to move some boxes out of the storage area where they were kept, including the day before FBI agents came to retrieve them. The prosecutors also accused Trump of trying to cover his tracks by ordering aides to delete security footage. They also obtained a tape of Trump discussing material that he knew was secret.
Trump, however, argued that he was more cooperative than Biden. The former president claimed he served lunch to the FBI at his club, apparently referring to a June 2022 meeting at Mar-a-Lago between his lawyers and a senior Justice Department official and several FBI agents that preceded the court-authorized search in August 2022.
“I cooperated far more than Biden did,” he said. “Biden fought them all the way. I didn’t.” Elsewhere he added, “Trump was peanuts by comparison.”
Trump also argued that Biden’s conduct was worse as a former vice president because “he’s not under the Presidential Records Act,” even though the statute applies equally to presidents and vice presidents.
For his part, Biden also misrepresented some of the facts of the case while addressing Hur’s report in a Thursday news conference. He claimed “all” classified records at his home were in lockable filing cabinets, despite a photo showing an open box in the garage that contained a classified document. He also falsely said “none of it was high classified”; Hur said multiple documents were top-secret sensitive compartmented information.
As Trump closes in on the Republican presidential nomination with wins in the first three nominating contests and a commanding polling lead in South Carolina’s primary later this month, he has made the total 91 charges against him core to his campaign message. Trump portrays the four separate criminal cases as a politically motivated and centrally coordinated attack on his candidacy. Two of the cases were brought by Smith, acting independently of the White House according to Justice Department rules. The other two were brought by district attorneys, and there is no evidence of collaboration with Biden.
In repeating that accusation Friday, Trump said he doubted Biden was personally involved, turning it into an attack on Biden’s acuity.
“I don’t know that it’s Biden because I don’t think he knows he’s alive,” Trump said, repeating a phrase he has used to criticize Biden before.
Trump did not mention passages of Hur’s report that gave a devastating impression of Biden’s lucidity, describing the 81-year-old president has having “limited precision and recall,” and “struggling to remember events and straining at times to read and relay his own notebook entries.”
Trump, 77, often viciously insults Biden’s intelligence and mocks his way of speaking and walking but strains to distinguish those attacks from being a function of age alone. He also showed sensitivity to questions about his own sharpness.
“If you say one word a little bit mispronunciation, you end up front page, ‘What’s wrong with him?’” Trump said Friday. “I have a guy I’m competing against who doesn’t — he hasn’t spoken in months, and when he does, it’s not pretty, is it?”
Trump did say Biden’s retention of some classified material occurred years ago, “when he was mentally a little better than he is right now.”
Elsewhere in Friday evening’s speech, Trump called it a “nice Saturday afternoon.”