Honor for friend and ‘brother’
‘Had no inkling,’ vice president says of Medal of Freedom
President Barack Obama presents Vice President Joe Biden the Presidential Medal of Freedom at the White House on Thursday. Obama, who called Biden “my brother” during a tearful goodbye, had invited Biden and his wife, Jill, to what they thought was a private meeting but instead was a ceremony attended by family, friends and colleagues.
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama on Thursday awarded Vice President Joe Biden the nation’s highest civilian honor, calling Biden “my brother” in a tearful goodbye at the White House.
Having called Biden and his wife, Jill, to the White House for a private farewell, the president instead led him into a room filled with his friends, family and colleagues to present him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully,” Obama said during the televised ceremony, as Biden wiped tears from his eyes and dabbed at his nose with a handkerchief.
Moments later, as the president called up a military aide to read the proclamation, Biden appeared to break down, turning his back to the audience to compose himself. After Obama hung the medal around his neck, the vice president cried openly.
“Ricchetti, you’re fired,” Biden joked to his chief of staff, Steve Ricchetti. “I had no inkling.”
Addressing Obama, who stood to his side, Biden said that he had never met anyone who had “the integrity and the decency and the sense of other people’s needs like you do.”
The ceremony was an emotional conclusion to a partnership that began in 2008 when Obama asked his former presidential rival to be his running mate. The two men became close during eight years in the White House.
Obama said the tribute will give the Internet one last chance to joke about the “bromance” the two share. He called Biden the “best possible choice, not just for me, but for the American people.”
Noting that Biden’s career is “nowhere close to finished,” Obama said his vice president will go on to have an impact in the U.S. and abroad.
Biden praised his wife and children for their support throughout his career, and praised the Obama family for their dedication to country and service.
“I was part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things,” Biden said.
INTELLIGENCE ON TRUMP
Earlier Thursday, Biden said in an interview that top intelligence leaders told him and Obama that they felt obligated to inform them about uncorroborated allegations about President-elect Donald Trump out of concern that the information would become public and catch them off-guard.
Biden said neither he nor Obama asked U.S. intelligence agencies to try to corroborate the unverified claims that Russia had obtained compromising sexual and financial allegations about Trump.
“I think it’s something that obviously the agency thinks they have to track down,” Biden said. He added later, “It surprised me in that it made it to the point where the agency, the FBI, thought they had to pursue it.”
Trump has vehemently denied the allegations included in a dossier about close coordination between Trump’s inner circle and Russians. The dossier, which was produced in August and then released publicly this week by the media, also included unsubstantiated claims about unusual sexual activities by Trump, attributed to anonymous sources. The Associated Press has not authenticated the claims. Trump has denied them.
The dossier was compiled by a former Western intelligence operative and had been circulating among news organizations and intelligence agencies in Washington for months. Its existence became known publicly after reports that the intelligence community had briefed Trump on the dossier.
Biden also was sharply critical of Trump for publicly disparaging intelligence officials, saying Trump was damaging U.S. standing and playing into Russia’s hands.
And he took umbrage at Trump’s comments accusing intelligence agencies of allowing the information to leak publicly and drawing a comparison to “living in Nazi Germany.”
“The one thing you never want to invoke is Nazi Germany, no matter what the circumstances,” Biden said. “It’s an overwhelming diversion from the point you’re trying to make.”
Biden said that in the briefing he and Obama received from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and others, there were “no conclusions drawn” from the dossier. Biden said it was “totally ancillary” to the purpose of the meeting, which was to brief Obama on a report he had ordered documenting Russian interference in the U.S. campaign.
“As a matter of fact, the president was like, ‘What does this have anything to do with anything?’” Biden said. He said intelligence leaders responded by saying, “Well, we feel obliged to tell you, Mr. President, because you may hear about it. We’re going to tell [Trump].” Information for this article was contributed by Michael D. Shear of The New York Times and by Josh Lederman and staff members of The Associated Press.
Vice President Joe Biden listens to President Barack Obama speak about their time together Thursday at the White House. “To know Joe Biden is to know love without pretense, service without self-regard, and to live life fully,” Obama said as Biden wiped tears.