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Biden and allies fight back against special counsel’s claims about his memory

The report has rocked Mr Biden’s campaign to stay in the White House (AP)
The report has rocked Mr Biden’s campaign to stay in the White House (AP)

US President Joe Biden’s Democratic allies are launching an aggressive defence against a special counsel’s explosive claims that the 81-year-old president could not remember major milestones in his life.

Mr Biden’s aides are trying to diminish the significance of the prosecutor’s allegations that the American leader was too forgetful to be charged for mishandling classified material.

The President set the angry tone hours after special counsel Robert Hur’s report was released, dismissing its conclusions about his memory and insisting he had not forgotten the year his son Beau died, as Mr Hur claimed.

Democrats on Capitol Hill and around the country quickly followed.

Hawaii senator Brian Schatz said: “Republicans saying that Biden is old is the least surprising thing in American politics. It’s all they’ve got.”

Democrats plan to answer the widespread questions about the 81-year-old’s age and readiness by affirming that Mr Biden is capable of being commander in chief and trying to discredit people who portray him as enfeebled.

Key to that strategy is drawing a contrast with former president Donald Trump, the heavy Republican front-runner who is himself 77 and has also confused names and facts while also facing four indictments and multiple multimillion-dollar civil judgments.

The signs of support are crucial for Mr Biden as he prepares for what could be a tight election against Mr Trump. Even before the report’s release, fears were mounting that the coalition that helped elect Mr Biden in 2020 was fraying, making it all the more important for the President to keep as many supporters as possible firmly on his side.

The Biden campaign circulated talking points to allies that were obtained by The Associated Press. The talking points refer to Mr Hur, a US attorney during the Trump administration, as a “Maga-appointed attorney who doesn’t have a case so he decided to lob personal attacks against the president”.

The talking points also stressed that Mr Hur is “a lawyer – not a doctor – so people should take his legal conclusions and ignore his political opinions”.

The White House has also noted Mr Biden cooperated with Mr Hur, who declined to charge him with unlawfully retaining classified documents, while Mr Trump faces an indictment in Florida after the FBI seized records from his Mar-a-Lago residence.

Mr Biden’s vice president Kamala Harris said Friday: “The way that the President’s demeanour in that report was characterised could not be more wrong on the facts and clearly politically motivated, gratuitous.

“I will say that when it comes to the role and responsibility of a prosecutor in a situation like that, we should expect that there would be a higher level of integrity than what we saw.”

Joe Biden
Mr Biden has faced scathing criticism from the Trump campaign on his cognitive abilities (AP)

Indignation spread into South Carolina, where Mr Biden scored a commanding victory in the first-in-the-nation Democratic primary on February 3, which was designed by his campaign to project clear strength. Some saw Mr Biden’s forceful response to the special counsel as a promising sign.

“I truly believe this is bringing the best out in the president. It’s showing that he’s a fighter,” said LaJoia Broughton, a 42-year-old small-business owner in Columbia who voted for Mr Biden in the primary.

Mr Biden’s allies say they do not expect the President or his campaign to take on the age question more directly. They cannot make Mr Biden any younger, and note that attacks on the president over his age were also persistent four years ago, when Mr Trump labelled him “Sleepy Joe”.

Instead, they intend to draw on the blueprint of the 2020 campaign and argue many voters will not want a repeat of Trump’s turbulent time in the White House. They also plan to highlight Mr Biden’s accomplishments and an economy that continues to show strength.

Kate Berner, a former deputy communications director in the Biden White House, said: “The President has said that age is a fair question on voters’ minds, but if you’re an independent or pursuable voter across this country and you’re worried about your kid facing gun violence while going to school, the prospect of a national abortion ban, or the future of our democracy, you may think about the president’s age, but at the end of the day the choice is easy.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump is 77 (AP)

“Donald Trump is on the wrong side of all of those issues.”

Some Democrats were not so optimistic. Jim Messina, who led former President Barack Obama’s last campaign, said: “This is a distraction. When you’re running a presidential campaign, you don’t like distractions.”

Mr Messina compared the special counsel’s report to the announcement in October 2016 by then-FBI director James Comey that he was further investigating Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified emails when she was secretary of state.

Mr Comey’s announcement, which came 11 days before the election, has been highlighted as a key component in Mr Trump’s victory over Mrs Clinton in 2016.

In this case, this week’s report comes nine months before US election day on November 5.

“There’s just so much time to get through all this,” Mr Messina said. “Trump has all the trials coming up. I’d be surprised if this was an issue in a month.”

However, Mr Trump’s allies were emboldened this week.

Beyond celebrating the release of the special counsel’s embarrassing descriptions of Mr Biden, the former president won a new trove of delegates in Nevada’s Thursday caucuses, where he ran unopposed.

Donald Trump Jr wrote in one of many messages highlighting the new report: “We all already know that Joe Biden is senile. What’s being lost is that Joe Biden is a criminal who put American national security at risk.”