WASHINGTON — Robert K. Hur, appointed on Thursday to oversee the investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified documents, has two attributes that suit the task — years of prosecutorial experience and a vivid understanding of the perils inherent in high-wire special counsel investigations.
Mr. Hur, 49, was President Donald J. Trump’s pick to run the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland, where he earned bipartisan praise for his handling of violent crime and public corruption cases. But it is his 11-month stint as the top aide to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein — as Mr. Rosenstein oversaw the appointment of a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to investigate Mr. Trump’s dealings with Russia — that might be most critical.
Mr. Hur helped run the day-to-day operations of the department at a time of major tumult in the department: From mid-2017 to late 2018, Mr. Rosenstein was under relentless political pressure, under threat of being fired by Mr. Trump over his decision to appoint Mr. Mueller, which the president considered a personal betrayal.
“We were coming under tremendous criticism from the commentators — and the president — and Rob kept his head down, pushed ahead and never lost his sense of humor,” Mr. Rosenstein said in an interview after Mr. Hur’s appointment was announced.
“This is a very different task than anything he’s done before,” Mr. Rosenstein said, adding that he thought Mr. Hur was the ideal pick. “Every special counsel starts with a sterling reputation, but no one finishes up that way.”
But Mr. Hur’s crucible moment came later, after he left Mr. Rosenstein’s staff to become the top prosecutor in Maryland.
Geoffrey S. Berman, the Trump-era U.S. attorney in Manhattan, wrote about Mr. Hur in his memoir, “Holding the Line,” which accuses the Justice Department under Mr. Trump of trying to use prosecutors in Manhattan to support Mr. Trump politically and pursue his critics. According to Mr. Berman, the Justice Department pushed his office to investigate John F. Kerry, the secretary of state in the Obama administration, who had angered Mr. Trump by trying to preserve the nuclear deal he had negotiated with Iran.
After Mr. Berman’s office decided not to bring criminal charges against Mr. Kerry, he wrote, Attorney General William P. Barr reassigned the matter to Mr. Hur, who called Mr. Berman to ask about it. “I went through the whole thing, explained our reasons for declining, and urged Hur to do the same,” Mr. Berman wrote.
Mr. Hur came to “the same conclusion we did, and the Kerry investigation just quietly died — as it should have,” he added.
That was not an aberration, officials said. Mr. Hur made a point of ensuring that politics did not affect his office.
Aaron S.J. Zelinsky, who was one of four prosecutors to abruptly quit working on the prosecution of a longtime Trump ally, Roger J. Stone Jr., accused senior officials of intervening in the Stone case to seek a lighter sentence. When he returned to the Maryland office, Mr. Zelinsky found that Mr. Hur treated him fairly and without rancor.
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In selecting Mr. Hur, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland is continuing a pattern of asking current and former Trump-appointed U.S. attorneys to handle politically sensitive investigations — like the inquiry into the president’s son, Hunter Biden — to allay any concerns about political bias.
By contrast, Mr. Barr repeatedly used fellow Trump appointees to oversee politically charged investigations that arose on his watch, including a review of the Russia investigation; the prosecution of Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; and allegations that proved to be false, that Obama officials had illegally “unmasked” Trump campaign associates in intelligence reports.
Mr. Garland said he decided to choose Mr. Hur after a preliminary investigation into classified documents found at a Washington think tank and Mr. Biden’s house in Wilmington, Del., prompted the appointment of a special counsel under department rules.
In November, Mr. Garland offered much the same explanation for picking Jack Smith, a veteran war crimes prosecutor, to oversee concurrent investigations into Mr. Trump’s mishandling of classified documents and his actions surrounding the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
“This appointment underscores for the public the department’s commitment to both independence and accountability in particularly sensitive matters, and to making decisions indisputably guided only by the facts and the law,” Mr. Garland told reporters during a brief appearance on Thursday.
Mr. Hur promised to “conduct the assigned investigation with fair, impartial and dispassionate judgment,” in a statement that closely tracked Mr. Smith’s comments after he was appointed. “I intend to follow the facts swiftly and thoroughly, without fear or favor, and will honor the trust placed in me to perform this service.”
Mr. Hur, who has been listed as a registered Republican in Maryland, received his undergraduate degree from Harvard and graduated from Stanford Law School, where he served as executive editor of the law review.
After serving as clerk for Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and a federal appellate judge, Mr. Hur took a job as a top aide to the current F.B.I. director, Christopher A. Wray, who was then the chief of the Justice Department’s criminal division.
He went on to work as a federal prosecutor in Maryland from 2007 to 2014, tackling a wide variety of cases. Former colleagues remember him as tough and smart — with somewhat less of a gung-ho reputation than the hard-charging Mr. Smith.
In Baltimore, Mr. Hur was known for his public corruption investigations of Democratic politicians in the city and at the Maryland State House. He brought charges against Baltimore’s former mayor, two of the city’s state legislators — all Democrats — and the city’s police chief. He also cracked down on corruption in the city’s police force and in the state’s prison system, and he won convictions against gang members and the shooter of a 3-year-old girl, a crime that rocked the city.
Mr. Hur often cast his prosecutions as the accountability needed to begin cleaning up the city. After his office won a conviction against Catherine E. Pugh, the former Baltimore mayor, Mr. Hur said his actions were intended to address the city’s “many pressing issues” of crime and poverty.
“We need dedication and professionalism from our leaders, not fraud and corruption, if we have any hope of fixing the problems,” he said in 2019. His record of rooting out corruption by Democrats in Baltimore suggests that Republicans in Washington could be less likely to view his decisions with skepticism as he considers the case of Mr. Biden.
As U.S. attorney in Maryland, Mr. Hur also oversaw high-profile domestic terrorism investigations. His office prosecuted members of The Base, a violent white supremacist group, and a Coast Guard lieutenant named Christopher Paul Hasson who had been plotting to kill journalists, Democratic politicians, professors, Supreme Court justices and those he described as “leftists in general,” according to the Justice Department.
Mr. Hur worked with Thomas Windom, one of the lead prosecutors investigating the involvement of Mr. Trump and his associates in their efforts to overturn the election.
One mutual friend said they were known for their willingness to work past the point of exhaustion — and recalled the image of Mr. Hur and Mr. Windom snoring away at their desks after pulling an all-nighter when working on a case together about a decade ago.
Charlie Savage and Michael S. Schmidt contributed reporting.