Release of Hur Report Underlines Perils of the Special Counsel’s Job

In January 2023, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate President Biden’s handling of classified documents to avoid any perception that he was protecting his boss entering an election year.

The man Mr. Garland tapped for the job, Robert K. Hur, has not been quite as cautious.

On Thursday, Mr. Hur, 50, a former Justice Department official in the Trump administration, dropped a 345-page political bomb into the middle of the 2024 campaign, the final report summing up his investigation. The document, written in unvarnished prose, is an excruciatingly detailed and seemingly subjective assessment of Mr. Biden’s faulty memory that overshadowed his conclusion: Mr. Biden, unlike former President Donald J. Trump, should not face criminal charges.

The Hur report underlines the challenges of deploying special counsels, which are intended to shield prosecutors from political meddling, but often result in the release of negative information about high-profile targets who have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing. It also showed the complicated balance of the job — navigating a polarized environment that leaves little option but to expansively explain the rationale for any decision.

Mr. Hur is no stranger to high-wire investigations and legal conflict. Under the Trump administration, he spent 11 months as the top aide to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein — as Mr. Rosenstein oversaw the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to investigate Mr. Trump’s connections to Russia.

Mr. Hur’s critics say he broke through guardrails intended to avoid tarnishing politicians facing tough elections. That was perhaps best exemplified by the F.B.I. director James B. Comey’s public condemnation of Hillary Clinton’s handling of government secrets, delivered in the months before the 2016 election.

Among the thousands of sentences in the Hur report, one juts out like a dagger: “Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview with him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” he writes.

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