US President Joe Biden “wilfully retained and disclosed classified materials”, a special counsel has found, but he will not face charges.
The investigation began more than a year ago after several secret documents were found at Mr Biden’s home and former private office.
The files were immediately returned to US officials when discovered.
“We conclude that the evidence does not establish Mr Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” the report reads.
“Prosecution of Mr Biden is also unwarranted based on our consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors,” says justice department Special Counsel Robert Hur.
Mr Hur’s 345-page report was released publicly on Thursday after the White House said it would not request any redactions.
Investigators conducted 173 interviews with 147 witnesses, including President Biden himself.
He answered questions in the Hur inquiry over the course of two days in October.
The special counsel’s report says that it would be difficult to convict Mr Biden of improper handling of files because “at trial, Mr Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.
“It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him – by then a former president well into his 80s of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”
For the oldest president in American history, being characterised as an “elderly man with a poor memory” will be seen as politically unhelpful to Mr Biden as he seeks another four years in office.
His Republican critics picked up on this line in the report.
“They didn’t want to bring charges against President Biden for the classified documents case because he’s too old and has a bad memory,” the House of Representatives judiciary committee posted on X (formerly Twitter).
“They’re admitting what we all see every day.”
The special counsel’s report revealed for the first time that the documents were classified as Top Secret – the highest level of secrecy, and were regarding military and foreign policy in Afghanistan.
The documents recovered also included notebooks containing Mr Biden’s entries about national security and foreign policy matters “implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods”.
The report went on say that Mr Biden’s actions “present[ed] serious risks to national security, given the vulnerability of extraordinarily sensitive information to loss or compromise to America’s adversaries”.
“But addressing those risks when pursuing criminal charges, the only means available to this office, is not the proper remedy here.”
In a statement from the White House, Mr Biden said, “I was pleased to see they reached the conclusion I believed all along they would reach – that there would be no charges brought in this case and the matter is now closed.”
He said that he “co-operated completely” with the probe, and sat for a total of five hours of interviews on 8-9 October.
“Even though Israel had just been attacked on October 7th and I was in the middle of handling an international crisis,” he said.
“Over my career in public service, I have always worked to protect America’s security,” his statement continued.
“I take these issues seriously and no one has ever questioned that.”
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign released a two-sentence statement clearly delighting in the report’s findings.
“If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president. Joe Biden is unfit to lead this nation.”
Mr Hur was appointed by US Attorney General Merrick Garland in early 2023 to lead the investigation and after a separate investigation was launched into secret documents found at Mr Trump’s Florida home.
In June, Mr Trump was charged with seven counts over his handling of classified documents after he left the White House, including mishandling classified documents and obstructing efforts to investigate the storage of the files at his Florida home.
He has denied any wrongdoing and repeatedly claimed it was his right to keep the documents. His trial is set to begin in Miami in May.
In Mr Biden’s case, documents were first discovered by his aides in an office he used after departing the vice-presidency in 2017 and before he launched his bid for the White House.
The first batch of classified documents were found on 2 November 2022 at the Penn Biden Center, a think-tank the president founded in Washington DC.
A second batch of records was found on 20 December 2022 in the garage at his Wilmington home, while another document was found in a storage space at the house on 12 January 2023, his lawyers said at the time.
After finding the files, the president said his team turned them over to the National Archives and the Department of Justice.
Mr Trump is charged with seeking to hide the records, even after the federal government requested their return.
Under the Presidential Records Act, White House records, once an administration ends, are supposed to go to the National Archives, where they can be stored securely.
Other high-ranking US officials, such as former Vice-President Mike Pence and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have also been accused of mishandling sensitive material.
Documents were found unsecured in Mr Pence’s Indiana home in January of last year, and Mrs Clinton was criticised during her presidential campaign for using a personal email address while working as secretary of state on an unsecured home server.
In the Clinton case, FBI Director James Comey decided after an investigation that she had been careless in using a private server but that this did not warrant charges.
Mr Pence maintained the documents had ended up at his home “inadvertently” but he had taken full responsibility for the mistake.