Robert Hur’s Partisan Roots Help Explain His Election-Year Jabs at President Joe Biden 

By Lisa Graves

Last week, Special Counsel Robert Hur announced that President Joe Biden will not be charged for possessing some classified materials from his time as Vice President in the Obama administration. While Hur emphasized that Biden acknowledged the accidental retention of documents–in contrast to Donald Trump’s efforts to urge others to help him conduct a cover-up–Hur also used the report to smear Biden as having a “significantly limited” memory, despite Hur having no apparent medical training. Hur does have deep partisan roots, however.

Hur was appointed special counsel in January 2023 by Attorney General Merrick Garland, who had appointed federal prosecutor Jack Smith as Special Counsel to investigate Trump’s refusal to return classified material, along with the lies Trump urged his attorneys and others to tell the government. Last January, a federal grand jury found sufficient evidence to indict Trump on 40 felony counts for his actions; Trump has pleaded not guilty. 

Hur’s election-year smears of Joe Biden’s age and mental acuity echo then-FBI Director James Comey’s widely condemned smears of Hillary Clinton about “her emails” during the 2016 presidential election, which may have helped tip that election in Trump’s favor. Hur’s aspersions–including the assertion that Biden forgot when his son, Beau, died–were condemned as inaccurate and wrong by First Lady Jill Biden and others, who complained that Hur’s report was designed to harm Biden’s electoral prospects. 

Press coverage of Hur has largely focused on his service as a federal prosecutor in both Republican and Democratic administrations, the kind of work prosecuting major crimes that is rarely political or partisan.

But the rote recitation of Hur’s superficial biography ignores his deep Republican ties. 

A closer look at Hur’s partisan roots helps explain his political shade against Biden and Hur’s willingness to put his thumb on the scale in this election in a way that could benefit his political party and friends. Those roots raise numerous questions that Hur has seemingly never been asked by reporters. Hur’s report also does not disclose the identities of the other lawyers he hired and spent nearly $2 million on to help him prepare the report that both exonerated Biden from prosecution and harmed him in the process. 

Special Counsel Robert Hur, who has been accused of attempting to harm Biden’s electoral prospects by targeting the President’s age and questioning his mental acuity in the newly released Department of Justice report, has deep Republican ties.

Hur’s Ties to Kavanaugh and the Bush Administration

Hur began his legal career as a summer associate at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis in 2000. K&E’s D.C. office has long been tied to high-profile Republican operatives, like Robert Bork (the defeated Supreme Court nominee who fired special counsel Archibald Cox at President Richard Nixon’s demand) and Ken Starr (who was hand-picked to investigate Bill Clinton’s business dealing as independent counsel and who pursued the impeachment of Clinton for his affair with Monica Lewinsky). Starr was still a partner at K&E when Hur joined the firm in 2000. (The author worked as a summer associate at K&E in 1993 when Starr joined the firm and worked with him, and declined its offer to become an associate.) 

Brett Kavanaugh was also a partner at K&E when Hur worked there. This was shortly after Kavanaugh worked for Starr in the Office of the Independent Counsel, where Kavanaugh reportedly focused on prurient details about Clinton and promoted rank conspiracy theories about the suicide of Vince Foster.

Hur and Kavanaugh had another thing in common, besides their day job. Hur was slated to clerk for Judge Alex Kozinski on the Ninth Circuit, whom Kavanaugh had clerked for ten years earlier. (Notably, Kozinski later resigned, in 2017, after at least 15 women who clerked for him said he sexually harassed them, which he denied. In 2014, Kozinski had praised Sidney Powell’s polemic against the Justice Department, “Licensed to Lie.” She recently pleaded guilty to interfering in the 2020 election in Georgia.) 

Hur’s Linkedin profile does not indicate how long he worked for K&E in 2000 or what he did before his clerkship began. For example, it is not publicly known if he joined other Republican lawyers like Kavanaugh, John Roberts, Ted Cruz, and Amy Coney Barrett in the Bush v. Gore litigation, or not. Where he worked or if he volunteered in late 2000 and in 2001 before his clerkship with Kozinski began is not apparent from his online resume.

Hur then clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who was part of the 5-4 ruling that stopped the Florida recount and installed George W. Bush as president through Bush v. Gore. It is not publicly known what opinions Hur helped write during the Court’s 2002-2003 term. However, Rehnquist penned the decision in two major areas: 1) blocking abortion clinics from using RICO to sue anti-abortion protestors for damages, in Scheidler v. National Organization for Women, Inc., and 2) striking down affirmative action to increase racial diversity in college admissions in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger

After his federal clerkships, Hur joined the Bush Administration as a special assistant to Chris Wray, a long-time Federalist Society member who had been appointed Assistant Attorney General for DOJ’s Criminal Division, after initially serving as Associate Attorney General under Attorney General John Ashcroft. (Kavanaugh had left K&E to work in the White House Counsel’s Office on judicial nominations in coordination with Leonard Leo, and was then nominated to the D.C. Circuit in 2003.)  

During that period, from 2003-2005, the Justice Department’s Criminal Division was focused on the Enron task force prosecutions and defending the Patriot Act during its first reauthorization battle in 2005. (That was also the period when John Yoo secretly wrote the torture memos to exempt interrogators from criminal liability and when James Comey, as acting Attorney General, objected briefly to Bush’s secret program to electronically surveil mass numbers of Americans without criminal probable cause.) Wray and Hur later wrote an article together about rules for prosecuting corporations based on the Enron litigation. 

Hur then left DOJ for a two-year stint working for the D.C. arm of King & Spalding from 2005-2007. 

Hur’s Ties to the Federalist Society

Hur also has ties to the Federalist Society, which Leonard Leo has long helped steer. That group, whose largest donor is “anonymous,” is designed to operate as a pipeline to power for right-wing lawyers. It is not publicly known if Leo and Hur are acquainted or not, or if their work has overlapped. Leo has played a substantial role in choosing who gets judicial appointments under Republican presidents. Leo’s role, if any, in helping to choose U.S. Attorneys is not known, though Leo-tied groups are the biggest funders of the Republican Attorneys General Association, which helps secure state leadership posts for Republican lawyers who then use their office to advance Leo’s political-policy agenda on abortion, climate, and more.

In 2007, Hur made his first known presentation to Leonard Leo’s Federalist Society. That was an event with Chris Wray in D.C. where they praised Ashcroft’s book “Never Again,” which is about the 9/11 attacks and the Patriot Act. They also co-wrote a review of the book for the Federalist Society, which Leo then led as Vice President (Leo now co-chairs its Board of Directors and helps fund the group).

Hur then returned to DOJ where he worked as a federal prosecutor for seven years prosecuting an array of federal crimes as an AUSA. During his work at DOJ, Hur spoke to Leo’s Federalist Society again about “forging careers in government service,” shortly before leaving public service in 2014 to return to King & Spalding.

At K&S, Hur became a partner and worked again with Wray, who chaired the firm’s special matters and government investigations team. The main matters Hur handled in that three-year period are not publicly known.

(During that period, that part of the law firm conducted an internal investigation requested by a co-leader of the Frontier Service Group regarding whether his partner, Erik Prince, was modifying aircraft for paramilitary use to sell to other regimes, without permissions (that partner subsequently left Frontier). It is not clear from public documents if Hur worked on that investigation for the firm or if it was staffed by other attorneys. Subsequently, as noted below, Wray and Hur returned to DOJ and seemingly took no action to investigate Prince, who was strongly aligned with Trump and reportedly sought to help Trump set up a back channel to secretly communicate with Putin. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) made a criminal referral of Prince, which apparently went nowhere. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics filed a complaint against DOJ in 2021 for failing to provide a response to the group’s record request of documents related to the Prince probe and whether it had been impacted by his close relationship with Trump.)


Hur’s Role in the Trump Administration and Regarding the FBI

Shortly after Donald Trump became president, in April 2017, Hur left K&S to work at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Trump administration as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General under Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein was confirmed on April 26, 2017, by the Senate as Trump’s appointee to serve as Deputy Attorney General. 


Hur was Rosenstein’s right-hand man, his principal advisor, when Rosenstein engaged in one of his first actions as Trump’s chosen leader of the section of the Justice Department with oversight of criminal matters. That act was writing a memo at Trump’s request to provide a rationale for firing James Comey. It is not publicly known if Hur reviewed the letter or helped write it. On May 10, 2017, Trump fired Comey from his post as FBI Director based on that memo, which criticized Comey for “announc[ing] his conclusion that the [Clinton email] case should be closed without prosecution” in July 2016. 

Despite concerns that Clinton and others had raised about how Comey both cleared her and condemned her, Trump’s move in firing the Director of the FBI was strongly criticized as interfering with the independence of the FBI in its criminal investigations. The week before the firing, Comey had testified before Congress in an oversight hearing about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, which all of the national security agencies concurred had occurred. Also that week, a grand jury indicted Trump advisor Michael Flynn (the former general who would later call for Trump to conduct an armed coup to stay in power). The day of the firing, Trump met with senior Russian officials and criticized Comey, who later wrote that Trump had repeatedly demanded his loyalty and assurances that Trump was not under investigation. The Deputy AG’s office would have been following all these matters closely.

In response to the firing, numerous officials called on Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel to ensure there would be no interference by political appointees of Trump into the ongoing investigation of Russian interference. For example, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) stated: “If deputy attorney general Rosenstein does not appoint an independent special prosecutor, every American will rightly suspect that the decision to fire director Comey was part of a cover-up.” 

As the Guardian noted: “Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, said: ‘This is Nixonian. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein must immediately appoint a special counsel to continue the Trump/Russia investigation … this investigation must be independent and thorough in order to uphold our nation’s system of justice.’” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) stated: “It is more imperative than ever that an independent prosecutor be appointed.” Ultimately, Rosenstein, who was the key decision-maker with Sessions having recused himself from the Russia investigation, appointed Robert Mueller to be Special Counsel in that investigation. (Rosenstein seemingly aided subsequent Attorney General Bill Barr, however, in suppressing some of Mueller’s key findings about Trump’s obstruction of justice, which effectively aided Trump’s deceptive claims about Russian interference in the 2016 election.)   

It is not publicly known if Hur aided in the firing of Comey and/or how he aided in responding to the fallout of Comey’s termination. One of the effects of the firing, however, was that Hur’s long-time work partner, Chris Wray, was chosen by Trump to be the new Director of the FBI. Wray apparently passed Trump’s loyalty test even though he assured the Senate that he would be independent.

Months later, however, Wray helped the Trump administration whitewash the serious complaints that Brett Kavanaugh had attempted to sexually assault Christine Blasey Ford years earlier. Wray acted at the command of Trump and his White House Counsel, Don McGahn, to “investigate” Kavanaugh’s potential sex crimes or other sexual misconduct at the request of the Senate. But, under Wray’s leadership, the FBI did little more than forward all of the allegations people brought to it–without interviewing several key potential witnesses or victims–to McGahn who did nothing about them. In 2021, three years after Kavanaugh was confirmed, Wray’s team finally responded to a two-year old inquiry into the investigation by Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Chris Coons (D-DE), revealing the FBI had set up a tip line that received 4,500 tips, which they failed to act on. The FBI then handed the tips over to the Office of White House Counsel, basically helping the White House cover-up the matter.

Hur was no longer one of the top advisors at DOJ during the Kavanaugh hearings, though. In April 2018, Trump appointed Hur to be U.S. Attorney for Maryland (a position Rosenstein had held since the George W. Bush administration, until Trump tapped him to be second in command at DOJ). It is not clear if Trump personally interviewed Hur or otherwise sought his assurances of loyalty as he did with Comey, before firing Comey for failing to assure him, or if there was ever implicit pressure as with another U.S. Attorney, Preet Bharara, whom Trump fired in March 2017 after he declined to resign as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Bharara later said Trump’s personal calls to him made him concerned about political pressure from Trump, who has long had major real estate holdings in that district. 

It is not publicly known if Hur ever met directly with Trump or received any calls from Trump as a U.S. Attorney. Shortly after inauguration in 2017, Trump did register a business in Maryland, “T. International Realty, LLC,” but its activities are a mystery and it has since become defunct under state law. According to press accounts, “The company, also known as Trump International Realty, is part of a lawsuit led by Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, alleging that Trump is violating the ‘Emoluments Clause’ of the Constitution.” (The state filing was reportedly signed by Eric Trump, one of his sons.)

As the U.S. Attorney in Maryland, Hur’s primary role was supervising other federal prosecutors in  criminal cases. In 2019, Hur also gave two additional presentations to Leo’s Federalist Society. Hur remained U.S. Attorney until early 2021, after Biden became president, when Hur left for private practice. 

Hur’s Ties to Other Powerful Republican Operatives 

In 2021, Hur went to work for the law firm of Gibson Dunn as a partner in white-collar criminal defense again. His fellow partners at the firm’s DC office include several well-connected right-wing political operatives, including Eugene Scalia, Ted Olson, Thomas Hungar, and Miguel Estrada

Notably, Michael D. Bopp is also a partner at Gibson Dunn. Bopp is representing Harlan Crow in his fight against the investigations by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Finance Committee over his very expensive and secret gifts to Clarence Thomas. Bopp previously worked as “the Legislative Director and General Counsel to Senator Susan Collins of Maine from 1999 to 2003”. And, Bopp was one of the close advisors to Collins in her vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation, after Leo helped pre-select him for the Court and helped push him onto the court despite the serious evidence of his attempted sexual assault and his repeated lies to the Senate.

(Bopp’s brother, Fred Bopp, is the lawyer in Maine who acted as an agent for Champlain Holding, a Maine entity tied to the purchase of a second mansion in Maine connected to Leonard Leo. Back in 2018, on the eve of the vote to narrowly confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Leo closed on a Robber Baron era mansion on the coast of Maine that he paid more than $3 million dollars for, including about a million in cash and a more than $2 million mortgage. As the Washington Post reported in May 2019, Leo was seemingly flush with cash during the Kavanaugh nomination, even paying off his 30-year home mortgage more than 20 years ahead of schedule.

After that ground-breaking report about the hundreds of millions marshaled by Leo to capture the Supreme Court and change the law, Leo paid off that mansion in full in the summer of 2019, while he was still working full-time as Vice President of the Federalist Society. After that Washington Post story, Leo left his day job to launch CRC Advisors with his longtime ally Greg Mueller in 2020. That year, a second nearby mansion was purchased in Maine tied to a Post Office box used by Leo. It is Fred W. Bopp, III, Michael Bopp’s brother, who is connected to the holding company for that purchase, Champlain Holding, though he does not work for the same law firm and instead works in Yarmouth, Maine.)

All of the major matters Hur handled at the firm are not publicly known. He worked there until January 2023.

Unknown Aspects of Hur’s Biden Investigation

In early 2023, Hur left Gibson Dunn to accept Attorney General Merrick Garland’s appointment as a special counsel after Biden’s team advised that some classified documents from the Obama administration were still in Biden’s possession. 

It is not publicly known which attorneys Hur brought with him or recruited from within the Justice Department for that investigation, which found that charges against Joe Biden for the retention of some classified documents from when he was Vice President were not warranted. It is not known if Hur, like Starr, hired any partisan gunners to aid him in his investigation, like Starr hired Kavanaugh.

Hur’s report goes out of its way to critique Biden’s age under the guise of exonerating him from prosecution, leading to right-wing memes suggesting that if you can’t be prosecuted you can’t be president. The report’s ad hominem claims about Biden have been widely criticized by numerous former federal prosecutors

Hur’s Office of Special Counsel indicates he spent nearly $2 million on personnel for the investigation from January 2023 to September 2023, but there is no public report of who helped him write the report in which he repeatedly notes what “we” found and decided regarding Biden’s culpability for the documents.

Timeline

2000 Hur was a summer associate at Kirkland & Ellis in DC at the same time as Brett Kavanaugh was partner.

2001 Clerkship with Judge Alex Kozinski, whom Kavanaugh had clerked for ten years earlier.

2002-2003 Hur clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist who was part of the 5-4 ruling that stopped the Florida recount and effectively installed Bush as president.

2004-2005 Hur joined the Bush Administration as a special assistant to Chris Wray in the Criminal Division.

2005-2007 Hur worked at King & Spalding’s DC office alongside Wray.

2007 Hur makes first Fed Soc presentation, with Chris Wray.

2007-2014 Hur works as a federal prosecutor, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney.

2014 Hur becomes a partner at King & Spalding, working alongside Chris Wray.

2017 Hur joins the Trump administration as Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General under Rod Rosenstein.

April 2018-2021 Trump nominates Hur as U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland and he is confirmed.

April 2021-early 2023 Hur works at Gibson Dunn; his fellow partners include high-profile Republicans like Eugene Scalia, Ted Olson, Thomas Hungar, Miguel Estrada, and Michael D. Bopp (Harlan Crow’s lawyer in the Senate investigation into Crow’s luxury gifts to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas).

January 2023 Attorney General Merrick Garland appoints Hur as special counsel in Biden probe.

February 2024 Hur issues report declining to prosecute Biden, with critiques about his age.

True North’s Caitlin Mahoney and Alyssa Bowen contributed to this report.

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