CNN sues for access to tape of Biden’s interview with investigators in classified docs probe

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CNN has sued for access to recordings of federal investigators’ interview with President Joe Biden in the now-closed probe over his handling of classified documents.

The interview has become one of the most notable and politically controversial parts of special counsel Robert Hur’s investigation, which concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to charge Biden with criminal mishandling of records after his vice presidency. In a final report, Hur called Biden, 81, “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

The Justice Department released transcripts of Biden’s interview after Hur’s report was made public in February, but the department also has recordings.

Hur, who has since left the DOJ, spoke about the importance of the audio recordings of Biden at a recent congressional hearing, saying he considered them as evidence shaping his decision not to charge.

“Without access to any of the interview records, the press and public initially could not form their own conclusions about Hur’s characterization of Biden. … Transcripts, however, are no substitute for recordings,” attorneys for CNN wrote in a court filing with the DC District Court on Thursday.

The extraordinary interview is the only time in decades that a sitting president has agreed to be interviewed by a prosecutor who was looking at potential charges against him.

Donald Trump, who had been under investigation multiple times including for classified-record mishandling and obstruction that resulted in criminal charges he is still challenging, never sat for an interview with any special counsel’s office.

Seeking access to Hur’s records

The filing from CNN on Thursday outlined how the news organization requested the Justice Department make public audio and any video tapes pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act days after Hur’s report became public. Nearly a dozen other news outlets also have sought access to the recordings and may join the lawsuit, CNN’s filing said.

While Congress has prompted some transparency around the special counsel’s work, several other organizations are suing in federal court in Washington, DC, for access to records from Hur’s office. Those lawsuits are still in early stages.

Jason Leopold, a reporter for Bloomberg News who frequently brings FOIA lawsuits, also has filed two lawsuits for access to records Hur created. The conservative groups Heritage Foundation and Judicial Watch also seek access to records related to specific interviews Hur conducted, including the one with Biden. The Judicial Watch complaint, filed in March, specifically seeks access to the Biden interview recordings.

While the public is able to access records from government agencies under transparency laws, lawsuits often are needed to prompt agencies to disclose those records more quickly.

Five-hour interview

At the pinnacle of Hur’s investigation last October, the special counsel interviewed Biden for five hours in person.

In the interview, Hur said Biden couldn’t remember the years he was vice president or when his son died. Biden did remember the exact month and day of his son Beau’s death, however, according to the transcript.

Biden repeatedly said he didn’t know or couldn’t remember how his aides stored or handled sensitive documents, or how they ended up in boxes in his private office and homes.

Asked to explain how he kept track of his personal notes on foreign policy, the president said, “I have no idea, I wish I could say I was more organized.”

In declining to charge the president with any crime, Hur wrote Biden would be sympathetic to jurors “based on our direct interactions with and observations of him.”

The White House has said that characterization of a president with a poor memory was inaccurate and unfair.

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the description of the details Hur said Biden had trouble remembering during his interview.

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