WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden’s interview with prosecutors over his handling of classified documents signals that a sprawling investigation that has included questioning of some of his closest aides and at least one cabinet member is nearing a conclusion.
The White House revealed Monday night that Biden was interviewed on Sunday and Monday by special counsel Robert Hur’s team, meaning he was fielding questions from investigators during the same hours that his administration was consumed by the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war. It’s a familiar dynamic for a president who over the last year has had to fulfill his duties as commander in chief while dealing with scrutiny over his own classified records retention and the legal problems of his recently indicted son, Hunter.
“As president, he has to do multiple things at once,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters Tuesday.
Agents and prosecutors typically save interviews of subjects for the final days of an investigation, a sign that Hur’s nine-month-old probe is likely near the end. Because Hur is a Justice Department special counsel, the conclusion of the probe will likely be accompanied by the release of a report laying out his team’s findings. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment Tuesday on the interview or when the investigation might end.
The investigation so far appears to present no legal jeopardy for Biden. There has been no public indication that he or anyone else in his orbit intentionally mishandled classified documents. In addition, Justice Department legal opinions have held that sitting presidents cannot be indicted.
But the political cloud surrounding the issue isn’t going anywhere. The investigation is on course to wrap up in the heart of Biden’s reelection campaign. And Republican front-runner Donald Trump, indicted by a different Justice Department special counsel over his own mishandling of classified documents, has repeatedly claimed Biden has received special treatment.
Since being appointed to the job last January, Hur and his team have cast a broad net, interviewing current and former Biden aides about the mechanics of how documents with classified markings were processed and stored. Among those questioned, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the probe, are former chief of staff Ron Klain, national security adviser Jake Sullivan, former White House Counsel Dana Remus and Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
The investigation has centered on how roughly 25 to 30 documents with classification markings, from Biden’s time as vice president and as a senator, wound up stored improperly in his Delaware home and in a private office in Washington he used after his service in the Obama administration. Some of the documents were found during searches of his office and Wilmington home by Biden’s lawyers and others during an FBI search that Biden’s team agreed to voluntarily.
Even as Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed a special counsel to investigate potential crimes in how the documents were handled, Biden and his team have sought to play down the severity of the matter. The president has said he was unaware that he had the records and insisted “ there’s no there there ” to the investigation.
From the start, the investigation unfolded alongside a far more perilous probe of Trump’s handling of classified documents. Though the existence of the investigation may have blunted Biden’s ability to forcefully castigate Trump for his own mishandling of classified records, it seems to have had little bearing on the Justice Department’s decision to charge Trump.
The former president was indicted in June on charges that he illegally retained top secret government documents at his Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, and obstructed government demands to give them back. While Trump claims that he was being prosecuted for political reasons by the Biden administration’s Justice Department, the indictment against him lays bare significant allegations of obstruction and intentional mishandling that have been absent from the Biden investigation.
Where the Trump probe has been laden with moments that hinted at the legal jeopardy he faced, including testimony before a secret grand jury by one of Trump’s lawyers, there’s been no public sign in the Biden investigation that prosecutors are even using a grand jury, an essential vehicle for seeking an indictment. The absence of a grand jury could also suggest that the interviews prosecutors are doing have all been voluntary in nature and that they have not needed to rely on subpoenas to secure sit-downs with witnesses.
Ian Sams, a spokesperson for the White House counsel’s office, said in a statement that the interview with Biden was voluntary. ““As we have said from the beginning, the President and the White House are cooperating with this investigation, he said.
It is hardly unprecedented for sitting presidents to be interviewed in criminal investigations.
President George W. Bush sat for a 70-minute interview as part of an investigation into the leak of the identify of a CIA operative. President Bill Clinton in 1998 underwent more than four hours of questioning from independent counsel Kenneth Starr before a federal grand jury.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team negotiated with lawyers for Trump for an interview when he was president but Trump never sat for one. His lawyers instead submitted answers to written questions.
Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.