Daily on Defense: Biden’s memory problem, Ukraine aid on track for now, Zelensky’s Lincoln-esque move, German chancellor in town

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BIDEN'S 'LIMITED PRECISION AND RECALL': When the report from special counsel Robert Hur was released yesterday, the initial headline was that President Joe Biden would not face criminal prosecution despite the finding he "willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen."

But as reporters read further into the 388-page report, a far more damaging allegation was detailed: that the 81-year-old president was suffering from serious memory loss, which would make it difficult to convince a jury that retention of highly classified documents was not simply an innocent mistake.

"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," Hur wrote, a line that quickly became the key pull quote. Deeper in the report, even more startling examples of Biden's failing memory were recounted.

"Biden's recorded conversations with [his ghostwriter Mark] Zwonitzer from 2017 are often painfully slow, with Mr. Biden struggling to remember events and straining at times to read and relay his own notebook entries," Hur wrote. "He did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended ('if it was 2013 when did I stop being Vice President?'), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began ('in 2009, am I still Vice President?'). He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died."


BIDEN: 'MY MEMORY IS FINE': Speaking to reporters last night, Biden was defiant and displayed flashes of anger as reporters peppered him with questions about mental acuity. 

"Do you believe your memory has gotten worse, Mr. President?" asked one reporter. "My memory is not — my memory is fine," Biden replied.

"Do you fear that this report is only going to fuel further concerns?" 

"Only by some of you," Biden shot back. 

"I'm well-meaning and I'm an elderly man and I know what the hell I'm doing. I've been president, and I put this country back on its feet. I don't need his recommendation," Biden said of Hur. "I'm the most qualified person in this country to be president of the United States and finish the job I started."

Biden made several inaccurate statements during his back-and-forth with reporters, including assertions that all of the classified material at his house was in filing cabinets that were either locked or able to be locked and that none of the material he kept was "highly classified."

Hur said documents related to Afghanistan during the Obama years were found in Biden's Delaware home "in a badly damaged box in the garage, near a collapsed dog crate, a dog bed, a Zappos box, an empty bucket, a broken lamp wrapped with duct tape, potting soil, and synthetic firewood."

And as if to validate the allegations of mental confusion, Biden made another slip last night confusing Mexico with Egypt. "The president of Mexico, el Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in. I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate."


HUR: 'INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE': On the charges that Biden mishandled classified information, Hur concluded that after Biden left office in 2017, he knew he kept classified information and he knew he was not allowed to do so. "There is also evidence that Mr. Biden willfully disclosed classified information in his notebooks to his ghostwriter by reading it aloud to him."

But as was the case with every instance of improper retention of documents, Hur concluded there was "insufficient evidence" to establish Biden's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And he drew a sharp contrast between Biden's case and that of former President Donald Trump, who is facing felony charges for misappropriating and refusing to return classified documents.

"The indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would clearly establish not only Mr. Trump's willfulness but also serious aggravating facts," Hur wrote. "Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite. According to the indictment, he not only refused to return the documents for months, but he also obstructed justice by enlisting others to destroy evidence and then to lie about it.'

"In contrast, Mr. Biden alerted authorities, turned in classified documents to the National Archives and the Department of Justice in 2022 and 2023, consented to the search of multiple locations including his homes, permitted the seizure and review of handwritten notebooks he believed to be his personal property, and in numerous other ways cooperated with the investigation."


Good Friday morning and welcome to Jamie McIntyre's Daily on Defense, written and compiled by Washington Examiner National Security Senior Writer Jamie McIntyre (@jamiejmcintyre) and edited by Stacey Dec. Email here with tips, suggestions, calendar items, and anything else. Sign up or read current and back issues at DailyonDefense.com. If signing up doesn't work, shoot us an email and we'll add you to our list. And be sure to follow me on Threads and/or on X @jamiejmcintyre


NOTE TO READERS: Daily on Defense will not publish Monday, Feb. 19, as we observe the federal Presidents Day holiday. We'll be back in your inbox and online Tuesday, Feb. 20. 

HAPPENING TODAY: The Senate will begin work on amendments to a $95 billion aid bill for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan, and other U.S. allies, after the measure, stripped of border security provisions, won the approval of 17 Republicans to advance to the Senate floor for debate.

"This is a good first step," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said after the 67-32 vote to advance the bill. "This bill is essential for our national security, for the security of our friends in Ukraine, in Israel, for humanitarian aid for innocent civilians in Gaza, and for Taiwan. The bill also strengthens our military at a time when they need it most. Failure to pass this bill would only embolden autocrats like Putin and Xi who want nothing more than America's decline."

Republicans who voted for the bill included Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Susan Collins (R-ME), John Cornyn (R-TX), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Kennedy (R-LA), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Mike Rounds (R-SD), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), John Thune (R-SD), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Todd Young (R-IN).

"We'd have been smarter to do it four to five months ago," Romney said. "But we Republicans insisted on a border bill to be part of the deal. We could have saved a lot of time if President Trump had just told Fox and others he didn't want the bill."

The question now seems to be whether Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) will put the bill up for a vote in the House, where many hard-right Republicans oppose more aid to Ukraine.

ALSO TODAY: President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House at 3 p.m. No joint press conference is planned, but there is a photo-op at the top of the meeting, in which reporters will likely shout a few questions. Biden will depart for his home in Delaware at 5:40 p.m.

Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre and National Security Council spokesman John Kirby will brief reporters at 1 p.m.


ZELENSKY: 'WE NEED A DIFFERENT APPROACH': As the war in Ukraine approaches the two-year mark, President Volodymyr Zelensky has ordered a top-to-bottom shake-up of his military structure, replacing his top wartime general Valery Zaluzhny with battle-hardened front-line commander Gen. Oleksandr Syrsky, the head of Ukraine's ground forces.

On social media, Zelensky posted a photo of himself and a smiling Zaluzhny, saying he thanked him for the two years of defending Ukraine and asked him to remain part of the team. But it was an open secret that Zelensky had grown frustrated with the popular Zaluzhny, especially after the failed summer counteroffensive, which sapped Ukrainian morale.

"We proved to the world that Russia can lose. In the second year of this war, we won the Black Sea. We won the winter. We proved that we can regain control of the Ukrainian sky. But, unfortunately, we failed to achieve the goals of our state on land," Zelensky said in a video address. "We have to be honest — the feeling of stagnation specifically in the southern directions and the difficulties in the battles in the Donetsk region have affected the public mood. Ukrainians are speaking of victory less often."

One reason for Zaluzhny's popularity was his refusal to send Ukrainian troops into battles in which they would sustain heavy losses, in defiance of Western military advice to concentrate his forces to break through Russian lines. The strategy saved the lives of thousands of soldiers but may well have prolonged the war.

"We need a different approach to rotations in particular. A different approach to front-line management. A different approach to mobilization and recruitment," Zelensky said, insisting his new commander would make important changes, including implementing a "realistic, detailed action plan" that will "take into account the real situation on the battlefield now and the prospects."


WHO IS SYRSKY? Changing top commanders in the middle of a war carries significant risk, both militarily and politically. Zelensky, who is known to have studied Abraham Lincoln for lessons in leadership, may be challenging the wartime president's bold move to replace the cautious Gen. George McClellan with Ulysses S. Grant. 

"President Zelensky is the commander in chief of his armed forces. He gets to decide who his leadership is going to be in the military," Kirby said at the White House. "That's what civilian control is all about.  We know that, and we'll work with whoever he has in charge of his military."

In a profile in the Economist, Syrsky is described as a "divisive figure who provokes strong reactions from serving officers," with a reputation for being "willing to engage the enemy, even if the cost in men and machines is high."

"Some praise his professionalism, others say he terrifies his subordinates and rules by fear," the Economist said. "One risk for Mr. Zelensky will be the grumbling provoked in the army by the sacking of a much-loved commander." 



Washington Examiner: Biden mishandled docs but special counsel recommends no charges due to 'limited' memory

Washington Examiner: 'Elderly man with poor memory': Special counsel's damning findings on president's mental state

Washington Examiner: White House rejects Robert Hur's 'inaccurate and inappropriate' comments on Biden's memory

Washington Examiner: Biden lapses on another world leader as he angrily defends mental fitness: 'My memory is fine'

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Documented: Biden's memory loss dates to 2015, 25th Amendment territory

Washington Examiner: Photos show Biden's classified records in 'mangled' box in his garage

Washington Examiner: Zelensky replaces top military official, names new top commander

Washington Examiner: Israel prepares for push into Rafah despite dense refugee population

Washington Examiner: Middle East Mirage: US pushes for two-state solution desired by everyone — except Hamas and Netanyahu

Washington Examiner: Vladimir Putin tells Tucker Carlson that invasion of Ukraine is still 'a civil war' in wide-ranging two-hour interview

Washington Examiner: Putin refuses to release Wall Street Journal reporter for free

Washington Examiner: Pentagon blasts Putin's 'Nazi-like' seizure of Ukrainian children

Washington Examiner: North Korea is preparing for war

Washington Examiner: Executive actions cannot stem tide of illegal immigration: White House

Washington Examiner: Ex-Border Patrol leader's Senate bid tests potency of immigration message for GOP

Washington Examiner: More than 40 Iraqi militia members casualties in initial US response to death of service members

Washington Examiner: US airstrike was a 'blatant assassination,' contributes to instability, Iraqi military charges

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Biden deserves credit for Kata'ib Hezbollah strike

Washington Examiner: Opinion: Special counsel offers weak excuses for not prosecuting Biden

AP: Putin urges US to push Ukraine to talks, hints at possible swap of imprisoned WSJ reporter

AP: Biden hosting Germany's Scholz as Europe grows anxious about Ukraine funding impasse in Washington

AP: US has enough funds for now to continue training Ukrainian pilots on F-16, National Guard chief says

Washington Post: Ukraine's Front-Line Units Acutely Short On Infantry

Wall Street Journal: U.S. Airstrike Fans Calls In Iraq For Coalition Forces To Leave

CNN: $1 Million In Extra Costs And Weeks Of Delays. How The Red Sea Crisis Is Upending Global Trade

USNI News: Maersk CEO Says Military Operations Can't Guarantee Safety Of Ships In Red Sea

Bloomberg: Kim Jong Un Says He Has Lawful Right To Destroy South Korea 

Military.com: All 5 Marines Aboard Downed Helicopter in California Were Killed in Crash, Service Says

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Report: F-35 Struggled With Reliability, Maintainability, Availability in 2023

Air & Space Forces Magazine: Guard Chief: First Ukrainian F-16 Trainees Are 'On Track,' But Funds Aren't There for More

Defense News: Houthis, Russians Wield Same Iranian-Supplied Drones, DIA Studies Show

DefenseScoop: Army Plans to Cancel FARA Helicopter Program in Aviation Portfolio Overhaul

Breaking Defense: Aussies Add $400M AUD for Boeing's Ghost Bat Loyal Wingman, to Unveil an Armed UAV This Year

Defense One: US May Cut Info-Warfare Assets as China, Russia Expand Influence Ops

Washington Technology: Air Force Chooses 17 for $499M Anti-Tampering Tech Contract

Space News: National Guard, Air Force Working to Resolve Impasse over Space Units

Air & Space Forces Magazine: F-16 Pilot Earns Trophy for Saving Jet With Smooth Belly Landing



12 p.m. — Foundation for Defense of Democracies virtual discussion: "Israeli Security: The Northern Threat and Other Challenges Ahead," with retired Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, former international spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces and FDD senior fellow; Eyal Hulata, former Israeli national security adviser and FDD senior international fellow; Bradley Bowman, senior director, FDD Center on Military and Political Power; and Anna Schecter, senior producer, NBC News Investigations Unit. https://www.fdd.org/events/2024/02/09/israeli-security-the-northern-threat

1 p.m. 2401 M St., NW — George Washington University Project for Media and National Security Defense Writers Group "coffee conversation," with Gen. Bryan Fenton, commander, U.S. Special Operations Command. RSVP to Thom Shanker at [email protected]

3:30 p.m. 1030 15th Street NW — Atlantic Council discussion: "Air Force Acquisition Priorities 2024," with Andrew Hunter, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, technology, and logistics; Clementine Starling, director of the Atlantic Council's Forward Defense and the Atlantic Council's Center for Strategy and Security; and Steven Grundman, senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Forward Defense and the Atlantic Council's Center for Strategy and Security RSVP: [email protected]


12 p.m. — Association of the U.S. Army "Noon Report" webinar with retired Gen. Mark Milley, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army chief of staff https://www.ausa.org/events/noon-report/gen-milley


4 a.m. Brussels, Belgium — NATO defense ministers meet at NATO Headquarters, with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg scheduled to give a press conference https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/news

10 a.m. — Center for Strategic and International Studies call-in press briefing: "Assessing the War in Ukraine," with Seth Jones, senior vice president, director, CSIS International Security Program; Eliot Cohen, Arleigh A. Burke chairman in Strategy, CSIS; Max Bergmann, director, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program and Stuart Center, CSIS; Maria Snegovaya, senior fellow, Europe, Russia, and Eurasia Program, CSIS; ​​​​Romina Bandura, senior fellow, Project on Prosperity and Development, Project on U.S. Leadership in Development, CSIS. RSVP: Samuel Cestari [email protected]


9 a.m. — Munich Security Conference runs from Feb. 16 to Feb. 18 at the Hotel Bayerischer Hof in Munich https://securityconference.org/en/msc-2024/

"There's even reference that I don't remember when my son died. How in the hell dare he raise that? Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn't any of their damn business."
President Joe Biden, insisting his memory is fine, in responding to special counsel Robert Hur's characterization of him as an "elderly man with a poor memory."
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