Honor for friend and ‘brother’

‘Had no inkling,’ vice pres­i­dent says of Medal of Free­dom

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

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.

AP/SU­SAN WALSH

AP/SU­SAN WALSH

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.

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