How Robert Hur Ghosted Joe Biden’s Ghost Writer

As I’ve shown, Robert Hur only seriously considered charging two sets of documents with classified information found at Joe Biden’s home.

First, classified entries in “diaries” that Hur persistently called “notebooks” to obscure the fact that the Presidential Records Act affirmatively excludes diaries from the statute and, presumably, to provide himself license to read through them all.

(3) The term “personal records” means all documentary materials, or any reasonably segregable portion thereof, of a purely private or nonpublic character which do not relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President. Such term includes–

(A) diaries, journals, or other personal notes serving as the functional equivalent of a diary or journal which are not prepared or utilized for, or circulated or communicated in the course of, transacting Government business;

Hur couldn’t charge those documents because DOJ didn’t charge Ronald Reagan for the classified entries in his diaries, which Hur always called diaries.

Then, two folders of documents pertaining to Afghanistan found in a ratty box in Biden’s garage. There was no direct evidence that Biden wilfully retained these documents, only to store them in a mostly-destroyed box collecting dust. Hur’s imagined motive for why Biden would — vindication that he was right about Afghanistan — is nonsensical, given that Biden had better vindication inside a desk drawer in his house, the 40-page memo Biden sent President Obama warning him it’d be a mistake to surge troops in Afghanistan.

To make the claim Biden did willfully retain them, Hur isolated a 66-word exchange Biden had with his ghostwriter in early 2017, Dan Zwonitzer, in which Biden mentioned “classified stuff.”

So this was – I, early on, in ’09-I just found all the classified stuff downstairs-I wrote the President a handwritten 40-page memorandum arguing against deploying additional troops to Iraq-I mean, to Afghanistan-on the grounds that it wouldn’t matter, that the day we left would be like the day before we arrived. And I made the same argument … I wrote that piece 11 or 12 years ago. [my emphasis]

Then he (by his own confession) read into eight words stripped from the context of the explicit reference to that 40-page memorandum that better vindicated Biden’s judgement, repeating that “8-word utterance” over and over and over. Hur even invented an attorney-client privileged conversation that Biden’s attorneys insist didn’t happen to imagine that Biden knew the box was there.

But to even get to the place where Hur was reading into eight words of a 66-word utterance, he first had to get to Biden’s ghost writer, Zwonitzer.

Nowhere in his 388-page report does Hur describe how — or just as importantly, when — that happened. Zwonitzer is not mentioned in the section that purports to provide an overview of the investigation. With the exception of a description of the five month search (though June 2023) of Biden’s Speech and Debate protected records at University of Delaware, the last date included in that overview is January 20, 2023, eight days after Merrick Garland appointed Hur. Aside from the search of those Senate documents, that section provides few details of how Hur spent over $3 million in investigative expenses or what he did during the 384 days between January 20, 2023 and when he released the report: just the numbers of interviews he did and documents he obtained, not when those things happened. Worse still, Hur deviated from the practice set by Robert Mueller and John Durham by only providing dates for witness interviews if a given witness sat for more than one interview, which obscures his investigation still further.

Hur doesn’t provide an overview of the investigation, he provides an overview of the discovery of classified documents, followed by a description of the classification review of them.

And in spite of the fact that Hur engaged in an 11-page declination discussion regarding Zwonitzer’s attempted deletion of the audio recordings of his interviews with Joe Biden (which he did in part because he was afraid of being hacked), Hur didn’t provide any dates there, except in footnotes.

FBI agents contacted Zwonitzer to request an interview and to seek records related to his work ghostwriting two of Mr. Biden’s memoirs, Promise Me, Dad and Promises to Keep. Zwonitzer provided investigators records that included near-verbatim transcripts and some audio recordings. When reviewing these materials, investigators noticed that there were some transcripts for which there was no corresponding audio recording. They then learned from Zwonitzer’s attorneys that, before the FBI contacted Zwonitzer, he deleted the recordings of his conversations with Mr. Biden. Zwonitzer then provided all electronic devices that contained or were used to create the recordings and transcripts related to Promise Me, Dad.

[snip]

Zwonitzer gave two consensual interviews during which he provided relevant information without seeking immunity or any protections or assurances (such as a proffer agreement). Zwonitzer was forthright that he had deleted recordings. 1353 In his words, “I simply took the audio files subfolder from both the G drive and my laptop and slid them into the trash. I saved all the transcripts …”1354 Zwonitzer believed he did this at some point during the period between the end of January 2023 and the end of February 2023. 1355 He took this action before the FBI contacted him about the investigation and requested that he produce evidence. 1356 Zwonitzer explained that at the time he did so, he was “aware” of the Department of ,Justice investigation of Mr. Biden’s potential mishandling of classified materials. 1357

Hur describes that Zwonitzer didn’t expect he’d get sucked into the investigation and when the FBI contacted him, they had no idea he had had recordings.

Zwonitzer also explained that at the time he deleted the recordings, he did not expect the investigation to involve him.1369 and he did not think the audio recordings contained information relevant to classified information.1370

[snip]

[W]hen FBI agents contacted Zwonitzer, they were unaware that audio recordings existed or where Zwonitzer’s electronic devices were located.

The date Hur reached out to Zwonitzer is important. Hur had no basis to even consider that Biden willfully retained those Afghanistan documents until he read through Zwonitzer’s transcripts. He describes that Zwonitzer’s “cooperation was uniquely valuable as the evidence that he provided was highly probative and not otherwise obtainable.” But he doesn’t explicitly describe when or why that happened.

Hur interviewed Zwonitzer on July 31, 2023 and again on January 4, 2024.

The biggest hint of when he decided to call up Joe Biden’s ghost writer comes in the appendix, where he reveals that he first obtained Zwonitzer’s laptop and hard drive on June 29, 2023.

The evidence Hur obtained from Zwonitzer was the last but one piece of evidence Hur describes collecting. The last? The ratty box, which by description sat in the President’s house for a year because it wasn’t deemed all that important until Hur decided to do some unconvincing photo analysis to claim the box was moved to Biden’s office from the house in Virginia in 2019.

There’s no evidence that Robert Hur reached out to Zwonitzer (who by that point couldn’t remember whether he attempted to delete the recordings in January or February) until after Jack Smith had already charged Trump for stolen documents on June 8, 2023, an indictment Hur cites repeatedly (and inaccurately) in his own report.

Perhaps just as telling, Robert Hur didn’t interview Zwonitzer until after CNN first reported about the role of Mark Meadows’ ghost writer in that investigation on May 31, 2023.

To be clear, Hur might have decided to find Zwonitzer independently. There’s a folder with materials relating to the ghost writer in that tatty box, that may explain that investigative decision. There are Vice Presidential records that mention him and even consider making him an official historian. Hur chased a theory that he could match the marked classified records found in Biden’s home with passages in Biden’s two books, a theory that totally failed with regards to the book Zwonitzer and Biden worked on in 2017.

But on the record Hur chooses to provide in his 388-page report, it’s not clear whether he reached out to Biden’s ghost writer because obvious investigative leads led there or because Jack Smith indicted Donald Trump so Hur decided to redouble his efforts to try to find a similar crime he could pin on Biden.

image_print
54 replies
  1. EW Moderation Team says:

    A reminder to all new and existing community members participating in comments:

    — We have been moving to a new minimum standard to support community security over the last year. Usernames should be unique and a minimum of a minimum of 8 letters.

    — We do not require a valid, working email, but you must use the same email address each time you publish a comment here. **Single use disposable email addresses do not meet this standard.**

    — If you have been commenting here but have less than 1000 comments published and been participating less than 10 years as of October 2022, you must update your username to match the new standard.

    Thank you.

  2. Mister_Sterling says:

    Devastating. This retire report is garbage, then. There’s zero integrity. It’s fiction. When anonymous sources in the White House were calling on Garland to resign 4 days ago, I shrugged. Now, I agree.

    • freebird says:

      I just finished Hur’s report. It felt like I was watching someone being gratuitously and verbally raped. The section misspelling Afghanistan and his book deal were particularly galling. Now, I am going to take a long hot shower.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        How many times did Hur wedge Biden’s misspelling of Afghanistan into his little story? It was gratuitous after the first instance. Folks with dyslexia, among others, often rely on phonetic spellings, especially if they’re from Biden’s generation.

        Hur barely restrained himself from mocking the president’s stutter, referring to him as hard to understand, while never taking a well-known speech impediment into account as compounding the “impairments” he presented as global.

        At the end he presents Zwonitsky in the most suspicious liight possible before condescending to clear him over the audio deletions. Not until the final sentences does Hur even grudgingly admit he couldn’t have done any of this without the material Zwonitsky unstintingly provided.

        I wonder how Zwonitsky (who, like Biden, seems to have been trying to do the right thing no matter how inconvenient to himself) feels about this now.

    • dopefish says:

      Yep. Political hit-job, from start to finish.

      Its depressing seeing Republicans do this crap over and over, and mostly get away with it (since the mainstream audience isn’t really paying attention and won’t ever investigate deeper than the article headline/soundbite)

    • Krisy Gosney says:

      Is it way off base to think Hur’s report is his audition for a Supreme Court nomination (if Trump becomes president again)?

  3. WilliamOckham says:

    In some ways, I find the declination discussion of Zwonitzer more troubling than what Hur did to Biden. It reads to me like an implicit threat against ordinary citizens. If Zwonitzer had insisted on his constitutional rights, there would have been much harder for Hur to make up his phone story about Biden. But I guarantee you if he had, Hur would have charged Zwonitzer and claimed that it proved intent on Biden’s part.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      William, I’m glad you wrote this. Having worked as an editor/ghostwriter myself, I identified with Zwonitsky naturally and felt increasing horror as that final chapter unfurled. Based on Hur’s narrative, I believe I would have done things very much as Zwonitsky did, with what seem like the same positive intentions to get a truth I perceived as redemptive out there via the investigation.

      Yet Zwonistky seems to have avoided an obstruction charge by a hair. This signals to me that the truth and good faith may be powerless in the face of bad-faith political actors like Hur.

      Garland would get flak if he had reined in this report. But isn’t that part of his job? Barr took plenty of flak and did it anyway.

  4. Robert of Had says:

    Hur’s unwarranted opinion, misrepresentaton of the facts, and partisan hackery was intentional. He doesn’t have a case in the court of law, but manufactured a crime in the court of public opinion.

    • grizebard says:

      Yes, that now-familiar tussle between two different courts; while the good guys “do the right thing” and bury themselves in the Law, the bad guys are shamelessly grifting the other.

      It’s an open question whether the mills of the Law, grinding exceeding fine (and with grit continually strewn in the gears), will be able to produce the results it desperately needs to produce before being rendered totally redundant by the other.

      The difference may often be fascinating, but it’s always painful to observe. (Except to the equi-partitioning media, evidently.)

    • emptywheel says:

      No. It’s discussed in the report, particularly as part of a discussion of how Biden considered, then decided not to, make him his official historian.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      This is covered in some detail in the report. The key issues involve material Biden read to (and may have briefly showed) Zwonitsky related to the period of 2014-2015 that the book Promise Me, Dad explored.

      Hur obfuscates, but it’s still unclear whether anything Biden shared (by accident; he was careful as a rule) with Zwonitsky had any relationship to NDI at the time. None of it was in the book.

  5. Upisdown says:

    Even with the gratuitous addition of ageist adjectives and the misuse of the word “willful”, Hur’s 388-page report is pretty much the opposite of “scathing”. Unless there can be a scathing exoneration in a criminal investigation.

    • ExRacerX says:

      On the “scathing” spectrum, I’d rather be exonerated on the evidence than because I was forgetful, and even less because my mental capacity was in question. Then of course, there’s “mentally incompetent,” which is the far end. I suppose if that were truly the case, I’d be too far gone to care.

      All that said, the way the most of the press are framing the report makes me question their mental capacity. Their work ethic also seems virtually nonexistent—snapping up and regurgitating whatever they’re fed.

      That’s why I love EW—the journalism, analysis, and comments here are top-notch, and the work ethic? Incredible. Thank you all for this oasis of sanity.

      • PokJean says:

        Totally agree with everything you said. So frustrated with the press. This is my go to site for in-depth analysis of current events. I appreciate the additional perspectives found in the comments section. Thank you to all!

        [Welcome to emptywheel. Please choose and use a unique username with a minimum of eight (8) letters **as noted in the first comment of this thread.** We are moving to a new minimum standard to support community security. Username “Pokjean” is shy of 8 letters. Thanks. /~Rayne]

  6. tje.esq@23 says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kSwKuJuZTkM

    off topic, but this under-the-radar hearing linked above in Ga is about the constitutionality of the Ga Rico statute. It explains why Bmaz and many defense attorneys and constitutional experts find the statute unconstitutional.

    “How can a person of ordinary intelligence know their conduct is illegal?” appears to be the Q.

      • WilliamOckham says:

        It’s not clear to me that either moral or ethical standards help you know whether or not your conduct is illegal in Georgia under their RICO statute.

          • Rugger_9 says:

            Or obscenity or many other things. In this particular case, Hur called untouchable diaries as ‘notebooks’, so let’s apply that standard to Defendant-1’s records and see how the RWNM squeals.

            This is why something with criminal consequences needs to be objectively defined, to limit possibilities for parsing mischief.

            • ExRacerX says:

              “This is why something with criminal consequences needs to be objectively defined”

              Yep. The extremely tiny area of the law I have knowledge and expertise in is municipal/county animal ordinances.

              Any time a term such as “animal,” “adequate shelter,” “immediately present,” or “running at large” is used, it must be appear in the definitions section. If it doesn’t, its interpretation is up to the officer for citation purposes, and, if raised by the Defense, ultimately up to the Court.

    • Harry Eagar says:

      I am no expert in Georgia law, but my slight reading suggests that the famous RICO prosecutions there involve faking test results and conspiracy; murder, carjacking and theft; and plotting to subvert an election and conspiracy.

  7. Savage Librarian says:

    Hur’s behavior reminds me of an old childhood prank:

    Kid 1: Do you want a Hurtz donut?
    Kid 2: Sure.
    Kid 1: (Punches Kid 2 in the arm.) Hurts, don’t it…(Then either waits to see what will happen, or hightails it away.)

    Rod’s (reel ‘em in) Baltimore Boyz Club seems to have just the kind of people who might encourage that kind of mentality.

  8. Leading Edge Boomer says:

    AG Garland had to release Hur’s “report,” because if he did not, or asked for changes in it, the Republicans would have released this scurrilous version in late October. The difference between this and the actions against Hilary Clinton is that the President has time to rebut and recover.

    • John Paul Jones says:

      Not a lawyer, but what I’m left wondering is whether Garland can, in light of widespread public mis-understanding of (and reporting on) what the report actually says, whether he can require Hur to issue clarifications as to certain aspects of the report, e.g., why he defined Biden’s private jottings as “notebooks” rather than diaries.

      I’m not confident such “clarifications” would change public perception very much, but they would indicate that Garland and some of DOJ at least are concerned at the mis-representations in the report.

      Not holding my breath.

  9. boatgeek says:

    What I’m struggling with here is what Hur thought he might gain from writing the report this way. The only thing I can thing of is he was trying to have this be the “But her emails!” of the 2024 campaign. But that would require being released in 4-6 months, not now. Also, he’s only ~50, so this isn’t a retirement project and he’ll probably want to stay employed somewhere.

    He can’t be angling for a job in a putative Trump administration in 2025 because he didn’t recommend indictment. Another Republican administration in 2028 or later is so far down the line that it doesn’t seem worth trashing your credibility for.

    He can’t be angling for a job in academia because this report is an obvious mess. It seems like that’s ditto for a serious law firm, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

    He can’t be angling for a job in any Democratic administration ever.

    Maybe he’s angling for a job in the right wing news media? Or the kinds of law firms that hire Habba and company?

    • Peterr says:

      Releasing it now helps counter the narrative developing in the courts around Trump. On the immunity motion, Trump lost with Chutkan, then lost bigly at the DC Circuit, and is trying his Hail Mary right now with SCOTUS. In NY, Judge Engoran is about to drop the bomb on Trump and his empire, though how big a bomb it is has yet to be determined. Things are a mess in GA, and God knows what Cannon will do next in Florida.

      Trump needs something to break the news cycle (recall the Access Hollywood tape weekend?), and Hur’s report does that rather nicely.

      • earlofhuntingdon says:

        Chuck Rosenberg is normally very good, less frequently over his skis than, say, Andrew Weissmann. But I disagree that critics are being unfair to Bob Hur. The length, detail, and focus of his public report are well over the top.

        • Rugger_9 says:

          A very thin silver lining here is that Hur would have a very hard time trying to claim to the Comer Clown Committee that ‘evidence’ was being suppressed. It’s all out there to be picked apart. One hopes we get public hearings.

          Outside of the RWNM bubble and the courtier press, the reviews are almost uniformly bad.

    • Tech Support says:

      Your presumptions about why SC Hur wouldn’t pursue one goal or another depends on him possessing an unusual degree of objective detachment. For example, why would he release the report in it’s current form if he himself believed it was a mess?

      Whether grifter or true believer, Hur clearly thinks he’s done the “right” thing, whatever that perception of rightness entails.

  10. drhester says:

    Axios is reporting that GOP is planning hearings during which they will have Hur testify about Biden’s mental fitness. SMH

  11. missinggeorgecarlin says:

    I wonder if it’s weird for Hur’s South Korean family? I think watching him lick the filthy shoes of a despicable bigot like DJT would make them sick. Especially since he shared “love letters” with the murderous North Korean dictator. His family probably hates his guts for being a lapdog of Don the Con.

    • Rayne says:

      Family dynamics and internecine politics for non-white immigrants can be quite complicated. If you don’t have a similar lived experience, I suggest avoiding any assumptions because they come off as racist.

  12. ShallMustMay08 says:

    I lost faith of any impartial work product when describing a file (pg 142 of report or 145 of document) as a “lucrative” deal to speak. No explanation of what he considers lucrative but sure did enhance his grouping and inference of motives. That word was a choice over (at minimum) profitable. Most officials are paid to write books and are certainly paid to speak in return for for their time.

    Fine if you want to note the dates created for access/usage but the rest is subjective and inference. Mission accomplished.

    Maybe he speaks and works for free. /s

    • Legonaut says:

      Remember the brouhaha over the Clintons’ earnings from speaking fees? It’s only OK if you’re a Republican.

  13. David F. Snyder says:

    Weiss is trying to hide his sweat, so to speak. Maybe the media will awake from their somnambulism and notice? Nah! Too often clicks overshadow logic and reason these days.

  14. JVOJVOJVO says:

    Is it just me – and I’m not trying to be conspiracy theorist about this – or does anyone else think it notable that Hur released his report on January 20 – given the significance of that specific date? It seems more like a tell that he intends his report to affect the Presidential election.

Comments are closed.