The Telegraph 2024-02-09 06:00:33


Joe Biden forgot when he was vice president and when his son died, lawyers say

Joe Biden’s memory is so poor he struggles to recall when he was vice president or when his son died, federal prosecutors have said.

Lawyers who interviewed the US president in October as part of an investigation into his handling of classified documents found he had “hazy” recollections of his time in office under president Barack Obama, and struggled to remember key details.

On Thursday, the Department of Justice released a report into Mr Biden’s handling of classified documents after leaving the Obama administration in 2016.

The report concluded that he should not be prosecuted for mishandling the material as jurors would see the full extent of his mental decline and conclude he was simply a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.

A series of gaffes this week have raised concerns about Mr Biden’s cognitive abilities, including two speeches in the past week where he claimed to have spoken to former world leaders who were dead at the time. 

Mike Johnson, the Republican speaker, said the report was evidence that Mr Biden was “unfit” for the presidency.

“A man too incapable of being held accountable for mishandling classified information is certainly unfit for the Oval Office,” he said.

The White House immediately launched a fightback against the indictment of Mr Biden’s memory, saying the interviews were conducted in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas October 7 attack

Mr Biden also defended his mental competence in an impromptu speech on Thursday evening, where he lashed out at reporters who questioned him about his memory.

Robert Hur, the Department of Justice’s special counsel, outlined in detail the gaps in Mr Biden’s memory.

“He did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended, and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began,” Mr Hur wrote.

“He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died. And his memory appeared hazy when describing the Afghanistan debate that was once so important to him.

“Among other things, he mistakenly said he ‘had a real difference’ of opinion with General Karl Eikenberry, when, in fact Eikenberry was an ally whom Mr Biden cited approvingly in his Thanksgiving memo to President Obama.”

The report revealed that Mr Biden asked the lawyers interviewing him: “If it was 2013 – when did I stop being vice president?” He also asked: “In 2009, am I still vice president?”

Mr Hur, who concluded that Mr Biden had inappropriately stored classified documents, said that he may not have been aware at the time and that if he faced trial, a jury would find him to be a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.

The White House’s lawyers have asked Mr Hur to remove “gratuitous” references to Mr Biden’s memory, which they said were “inflammatory”.

Mr Hur was first appointed to the post of US Attorney for the District of Maryland by Donald Trump in 2018, but appointed as special counsel in the Biden documents case by Merrick Garland, Mr Biden’s own attorney general.

Mr Biden said he 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”.

New series of gaffes

While Mr Biden has always been prone to gaffes, his latest string of remarks raise further questions on whether he is fit for a second term.

Speaking at two fundraisers in New York, the US president told the same anecdote in which he referred to speaking to Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand at a G7 summit in Cornwall in 2021.

Mr Kohl died in 2017 and had not been the country’s leader since 1998.

“When I first got elected president, I went to a G7 meeting with the seven heads of state in Europe and Great Britain,” Mr Biden said, as reported by the White House pool.

“I sat down and I said, ‘Well, America’s back’. And the president of France looked at me and said, ‘For how long?’ I never thought of it this way.

“Then Helmut Kohl of Germany looked at me and said, ‘What would you say Mr President, if you picked up the London Times tomorrow morning and learned that 1,000 people had broken down… the doors of the British Parliament and killed some [people] on the way in [to] deny the prime minister to take office.”

Mr Kohl, who stood down more than 20 years ago, was not alive when the US Capitol was stormed by supporters of Donald Trump. He died some four years before his supposed conversation with the US president took place.

Mr Biden mistakenly referred to Mr Kohl again when he gave the speech for a second time on the same day.

Delivering an almost-identical speech in Las Vegas on Sunday, the US president claimed to have talked to Mr Mitterand about the January 6 riots at the G7 meeting in Cornwall.

Mr Biden apparently told world leaders that “America is back”, prompting “Mitterrand from Germany” to offer his opinion.

“Mitterrand from Germany – I mean, from France – looked at me and said, ‘You know, what… why… how long you back for?” he said, apparently referring to Emmanuel Macron.

Mr Mitterand was elected French president in 1981 and remained in office until 1995, dying a year later.

In what has shaped up to be a bruising week for Mr Biden, the Democrat leader on Tuesday appeared to forget the name of Hamas and stumbled over his words when speaking to the press in the White House.

After delivering an address urging Republicans to back a bipartisan immigration and border deal that would provide funding for Ukraine and Israel, he was asked for an update about hostage negotiations involving Hamas.

“There’s been a response from the opposition,” he said, appearing to pause until a reporter suggested the word he was searching for was “Hamas”.

“Yes, I’m sorry, from Hamas,” Mr Biden continued. “But it seems to be a little over the top. We’re not sure where it is. There’s a continuing negotiation right now.”

Despite his age, the Democrats have insisted they have no Plan B if Mr Biden was forced to pull out of the 2024 election for any reason.

If he was suddenly to depart, the party would be left to scramble to pick another nominee at their August convention.

Voters from both parties have told pollsters they are concerned about the age of Mr Biden, who will be 86 at the end of his second term if he is re-elected.

In recent weeks, Mr Trump, 77, has also suffered verbal or mental slips, seeming to mix up Nikki Haley with Nancy Pelosi when he was talking about the events of January 6.

‘My memory is fine’: Biden shouts at reporters as he defends his mental competence

A furious Joe Biden shouted at reporters who questioned his mental agility at an impromptu press conference on Thursday evening, hours after a bombshell report revealed he had struggled to remember when he was vice president.

The president spoke from the White House to respond to a report by special counsel Robert Hur, who investigated Mr Biden’s storage of classified documents.

In the report, Mr Hur said that he did not think Mr Biden should be prosecuted over secret papers that were discovered in his garage – but questioned “significant limitations in his memory”.

Responding to the claims, Mr Biden said his memory was “fine” and defended his record since taking office in 2020.

Mr Hur said on Thursday that the president had twice failed to recall when he had served as vice president under Barack Obama, and had forgotten the date his son Beau died.

On the subject of his son, Mr Biden replied: “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 damned business.

“I don’t need anyone, I don’t need anyone to remind me of when he passed away.”

However, the press conference raised further questions about Mr Biden’s mental agility, after he confused Mexico with Egypt in response to a reporter’s query about the current situation in the Middle East.

Referring to the Rafah crossing, between Egypt and Gaza, he said: “As you know, initially the President of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in.”

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the president of Egypt, while Mexico does not share a land border with Gaza.

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in Gaza, in the Gaza Strip, has been over the top,” he said.

He said he was “pleased” that the Department of Justice had decided not to pursue him in the courts, but did not address the fact that one reason for the decision was that a jury would acquit him because they would think he was a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.

The president began shouting at reporters as they asked him about the report’s findings.

At one point, responding to a question about a perception among some voters that he is no longer fit to serve as president, he replied: “That is your judgement. That is your judgement! That is not the judgement of the press.”

As he was questioned on the findings of the report, which claimed that classified material had been wrongly stored at Mr Biden’s home, he responded: “I did not share classified information! I did not.”

As reporters spoke over him, he shouted back: “Let me answer your question!”

He added that the reason he believed he should remain in office was “because I’m the most qualified person in this country to be president of the United States and finish the job I started.”

The report and press conference come after a series of public gaffes from Mr Biden, in which he claimed to have spoken recently with two long-dead world leaders.

At campaign events in New York this week, he told audiences that he had spoken with Helmut Kohl and Francois Mitterand at a G7 summit in Cornwall in 2021.

Mr Kohl and Mr Mitterand died in 2017 and 1996, respectively, and their countries of Germany and France were represented at the summit by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

Piers Morgan leaves TalkTV, calling his low-rating daily show a ‘straitjacket’

Piers Morgan is leaving television and heading to YouTube, saying that his nightly TalkTV show has been a “straitjacket” with lacklustre ratings.

Piers Morgan Uncensored has attracted some of the biggest names in politics and entertainment, beginning with a Donald Trump interview for the launch programme.

This week he interviewed Rishi Sunak, and made headlines by persuading the Prime Minister to make a bet on Rwanda flights leaving before the next election.

However, ratings for the daily 8pm slot are small; the Sunak interview was watched by barely 50,000 viewers on television, but has been viewed 335,000 times on YouTube.

Morgan announced that he would make the show YouTube-only, in a move that will raise questions about the future of Rupert Murdoch’s TalkTV. He is the station’s star name.

He said that the decision was his own, although Murdoch is said to have been equally displeased with Morgan’s ratings. The presenter was reportedly being paid £50 million over three years for work across various News UK outlets.

Morgan joined TalkTV after quitting ITV’s Good Morning Britain in a row over the Duchess of Sussex, and before that left CNN after audiences were turned off by his championing of gun control.

‘I just want to go full digital’

“I’ve just decided that I no longer want to create my show for linear television. I just want to go full digital globally,” Morgan told the Semafor website.

“There’s something quite anachronistic about … still trying to create old-fashioned TV for a pre-scheduled time slot each night for a relatively small audience, when we’re getting such gigantic audiences digitally.

“The frustration for me has been continuing to create a TV-format show when that’s not how 95 per cent of my audience is watching it.”

Speaking to The Times, Morgan added: “It’s clear there’s a huge global demand for the content we’re making, but the commitment to a daily show at a fixed schedule, with all the editing and time sensitivities that involves, has been an unnecessary straitjacket.

“People are watching the content on YouTube rather than conventional television and I have no problem with that.”

The Piers Morgan Uncensored channel on YouTube has 2.35 million subscribers. His recent interview with Egyptian comedian Bassem Youssef, regarding the Israel-Hamas conflict, has had 22 million views after going viral on social media, while other popular interviews include Andrew Tate (14 million), Kanye West (8.7 million) and Cristiano Ronaldo (5.7 million).

The YouTube move would allow Morgan to do more expansive interviews and not be constrained by an hour-long running time, he said. “I could happily interview Elon Musk for three or four hours tomorrow and the audience would lap it up.

“But the nightly restriction of having to go into a studio at 8pm when sometimes there is nothing happening and literally fill time? Nobody wants that.”

TalkTV deal ‘worth $50 million over three years’

TalkTV launched in April 2022 but has struggled to get a foothold in the market, despite its expensive production values. A revamp last year which put Julia Hartley-Brewer, Mike Graham and Jeremy Kyle into prime slots has failed to revive interest.

Viewing figures have lagged well behind rivals including GB News and there has been speculation that Murdoch could pull the plug.

Figures from ratings body Barb show that the audience averaged just 11,100 for a Monday in January, compared to 58,000 for GB News, 62,500 for Sky News and 76,000 for BBC News.

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Church of England has become ‘conveyor belt for asylum seeker fake conversions’

The Church of England is complicit in a “conveyor belt” of asylum seeker baptisms used by migrants to remain in the UK, according to a whistleblowing priest.

The Rev Matthew Firth, who was priest in charge at a parish in the north of England, has told The Telegraph how he tried to stop the “veritable industry” of baptisms after discovering the scale of abuse in the system.

He says he personally encountered around 20 cases where failed asylum seekers sought baptisms at his church to support their appeals for leave to remain in the UK. From his conversations with fellow clergy, he believes there are hundreds and “probably” thousands of asylum baptisms.

Mr Firth, 41, who quit his post to join the Free Church of England, says he even witnessed migrants apparently handing money to a Muslim middleman who would bring “cohorts” of asylum seekers to the church for baptisms.

In an interview with The Telegraph, he alleges the Church of England has naively turned a blind eye and allowed itself to be used by “people who do not have pure motives”, adding: “It is not direct wrongdoing from the Church but it is complicity, which is not right.”

Mr Firth has decided to speak out after it emerged that Abdul Ezedi, the Clapham chemical attack suspect, was granted asylum after claiming to have converted to Christianity, despite having two convictions in the UK for sex assault and exposure.

Last week, the Church of England insisted it was not its job to vet asylum seekers.

Friends of Ezedi, an illegal migrant, told The Telegraph that he was a “good Muslim” who bought half a Halal sheep every fortnight, despite his apparent conversion. James Cleverly, the Home Secretary, is reviewing the facts of the case to establish if the law needs to be overhauled to prevent such abuses.

Mr Firth said he found an “extraordinary” number of asylum seekers booked in for baptisms when he joined St Cuthbert’s Church in Darlington in January 2018. He claimed the majority – “if not all of them” – were asylum seekers who had failed in their first application for asylum.

His suspicions were further raised after he allowed the first ones to go ahead as they were already booked. “I decided I had to put a stop to the conveyor belt and veritable industry of asylum baptisms that was going on,” said Mr Firth.

He decided he could not deny them the right to baptism but believed they should follow the standard route where they would have to spend six months attending church. “It was clear that it was very unusual to have that number of adult baptisms, all at the same time. It was very unusual,” he said.

Mr Firth claimed he was pressured by asylum seekers’ lawyers to make up claims to support their claims for asylum. “I have direct letters from lawyers asking me to say certain things about their clients. And I said: ‘Well, no, I’m not going to say that, because it’s not true, or I don’t have any evidence of it,’” he said.

He said his stance led to him becoming a victim of low-level, non-physical bullying by progressive activists within the congregation who disagreed with his approach. “There were one or two people who were clearly hostile to me because of my approach to this,” he said.

He claimed that senior clergy turned a blind eye to the problem because high numbers of adult baptisms showed their ministry was being successful by winning converts. “It is wonderful when you have lots of people who are adults who have been baptised,” he said.

‘Complicit in dishonesty’

Mr Firth – a self-avowed traditional evangelical Christian – said the asylum seekers “drifted away” after he introduced the six-month rule but alleged he was “cold shouldered” by the senior clergy, which culminated in his departure from his post and decision to join the Free Church of England.

He said he was aware of such fake conversions going on in “many parishes” in England, largely in areas where there were significant numbers of asylum seekers. This includes Liverpool Cathedral where he was told by one former clergy that half of asylum seekers wanting baptism were not genuine.

“It’s a combination of being naive but also turning a blind eye to what is going on. We have to be discerning,” he said. “All I’m choosing is not to be complicit in dishonesty. Choosing not to be complicit in what is quite a serious situation in terms of security matters but also undermining of culture.”

He said the attempt by the Archbishop of Canterbury to “tar” critics for being unwelcoming and uncaring was insulting. “He’s saying the Church is not there to vet people. Well, no but it is there to be discerning about how it administers baptism,” he said. “When I see him not telling the truth, I am just going to tell the truth.”

He said there needed to be proper safeguards to protect against the “small numbers” who could become a security or criminal threat, like Ezedi, who it has emerged was helped by a baptist church in his asylum claim.

Mr Firth said he did not raise his concerns with his diocese after bringing the baptisms he was concerned about to an end.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Durham said: “We do not recognise the picture these allegations present and have not seen any evidence of such claims.

“Mr Firth no longer ministers in the Church of England, however at no point during his time in office did he raise any of these claims as a concern or an issue. Had he done so, we would have looked into the matter. We would query whether he has ever raised his concerns with the authorities.”

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Dangerous criminals in secure hospitals get cold weather payments at taxpayers’ expense

Dangerous criminals being treated in secure hospitals rather than held in prison are getting cold weather payments at the expense of the taxpayer.

They are entitled to the payments as part of the benefits package which they can get by being treated as “patients” in secure psychiatric hospitals under “restricted” conditions rather than being sent to prison.

The payments are worth £25 for each seven-day period of very cold weather of at least zero degrees celsius and are awarded based on the temperatures in the postcode where they are living even if it is a secure hospital with central heating.

The disclosure comes after The Telegraph revealed that triple killer Valdo Calocane will be entitled to claim thousands of pounds in benefits a year after being sent to Ashworth high security hospital, in Merseyside, rather than being jailed.

It subsequently emerged that up to 2,700 killers, sex offenders and other violent criminals are receiving benefits because they have been sent to secure hospitals rather than prison.

Mel Stride, the Work and Pensions Secretary, is understood to be urgently reviewing Calocane’s case and the wider entitlement of offenders to benefits in secure hospitals.

The latest payments were revealed by a longstanding staff member at a medium secure mental health unit who said that convicted criminals being treated were “in receipt of universal credit and some are getting PIP [Personal Independence Payment] and most recently cold weather payments and help with living costs.”

They added: “Patients get four hot meals a day, have no bills to pay and also get money from the hospital for therapeutic reasons for cooking sessions.

‘Disposable incomes’

“Some patients have disposable incomes of £800 a month. Some [get] more than this which is paid direct into hospital finances or into their private bank account. Many patients don’t have budgeting skills and spend the money as soon as they get it. Some accumulate thousands [of pounds].

“I have known some patients to have a host of tech gadgets in their rooms and now they can have access to mobiles, smartphones and expensive trainers.

“My belief has always been that [people with] mental health issues should not be treated the same way as prisoners, but I also believe that benefits should be given in the community. Anyone else going into hospital will have benefits stopped after a few weeks.”

Julian Hendy, founder of the Hundred Families charity, which supports families in mental health-related killings, said: “This just seems to go from bad to worse. How can cold weather payments be possibly justified for serious offenders detained in psychiatric hospitals?

“We need to know just exactly what is going on. We need much greater transparency and openness. It seems even more money is now being given to offenders with no possible need for it. This is money that surely could be much better spent on supporting victims or preventing further tragedies.”

A government spokesman said: “We have been clear that questions need answering in all aspects of this case. Entitlement to benefit is, by law, dependent on sentences handed out, and the Work and Pensions Secretary is looking at the specifics of this case.”