Robert Hur’s Testimony Was an Exercise in 2024 Messaging for Republicans and Democrats

It’s going to be a long year—or so it seems, based on former special counsel Robert Hur’s congressional testimony on Tuesday, which morphed into a preview of the general election messaging that both parties will likely use this fall.

With Joe Biden’s age arguably seen as his greatest weakness in the eyes of voters, the closely watched Hur testimony before the House Judiciary Committee provided Republicans an ideal venue to repeatedly describe the president as physically unfit for the job. Scott Fitzgerald, a Republican congressman from Wisconsin, read off the dictionary definition of senile. He then asked Hur if his report found that the word applied to Biden. “That conclusion does not appear in my report,” Hur replied, adding that he included Biden’s lapses in memory to illustrate how a jury might struggle to rule that Biden intentionally mishandled the classified files. Matt Gaetz, a particularly Trump-inclined Republican from Florida, also used the word senile while theorizing why Hur declined to recommend that Biden be prosecuted. “You find in your report that the elements of a federal criminal violation are met, but then you apply this senile cooperator theory,” said Gaetz. Hur disagreed with Gaetz’s conclusion, again explaining that he did not recommend prosecution because he could not prove “intent.”

Democrats countered by showcasing Donald Trump’s apparent cognitive deficiencies and noting that the former president’s own case of mishandling classified documents has proved far more severe. “[Trump] is a man who, at the very least, ought to think twice before accusing others of cognitive decline,” Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, said during his opening remarks in the House Judiciary hearing. He made the comment after playing a montage of Trump confusing Biden with Barack Obama on two separate occasions, failing to recall past statements he has made, and struggling to identify accurate dates, seemingly a direct retort to Hur’s conclusions on Biden’s memory. Mary Gay Scanlon, a Pennsylvania Democrat, deployed a similar strategy; she played clips of Trump not recalling the date he was married to Marla Maples and that of his wedding with Melania Trump.

While Hur insisted that “politics had no place whatsoever” in his investigation and report, some Democrats claimed otherwise. Adam Schiff, a Democratic congressman from California, alleged that Hur included language in his report that he knew would “be useful in a political campaign,” adding, “You were not born yesterday. You understood exactly what you were doing.” Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat, took this accusation further, suggesting that Hur, who recently resigned from the Department of Justice, has secretly hitched his career to a second Trump term. “You are doing everything you can do to get President Trump reelected so that you can get appointed as a federal judge, perhaps to another position in the Department of Justice. Isn’t that correct?” said Johnson, to which Hur replied, “I have no such aspirations…partisan politics had no place whatsoever in my work.”

Hur was also scolded by Republicans who were simultaneously angered by his refusal to prosecute Biden and pleased with his analysis of Biden’s mental abilities. After thanking Hur for his report, Tom Tiffany, a Wisconsin Republican, accused Hur of being a member of “the praetorian guard that guards the swamp out here in Washington, DC, protecting the elites.”

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