Republicans move forward with bid to hold Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress over Biden audio

Republicans took symbolic shot at attorney general after DoJ refused to release audio of special counsel interview with Biden

Gustaf Kilander
Washington DC
Thursday 16 May 2024 21:37 BST
Related video: Merrick Garland could be held in contempt as Biden asserts executive privilege over Hur recording

House Republicans have moved forward with an attempt to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress.

In a largely symbolic shot, the Judiciary Committee voted 18-15 along party lines on Thursday to recommend that the full House of Representatives hold him in contempt.

The Oversight Committee looks set to make a similar move on Thursday night.

This comes after the Department of Justice defied subpoenas from the House GOP demanding audio of an interview between President Joe Biden and special counsel Robert Hur, as part of the investigation into his handling of classified documents.

In his scathing report released earlier this year, Mr Hur said that Mr Biden may be viewed by a jury as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” – prompting fury from Mr Biden and other Democrats.

Republicans on the other hand have used the phrase to bash the president. They have also requested the transcript of the interview with Mr Biden and other documents mentioned in the report, in addition to the audio. The Department of Justice has since released the transcript and other documents but has held onto the audio.

The Department of Justice noted a number of problems with handing the audio over to Congress, such as the impact it would have on future investigations.

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during the 36th Annual Candlelight Vigil to honor the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in 2023, in Washington, on May 13, 2024
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during the 36th Annual Candlelight Vigil to honor the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in 2023, in Washington, on May 13, 2024 (AP)

In a letter to Mr Biden on Wednesday, Mr Garland wrote that the “Committees have failed to satisfy any of the potentially relevant standards for overcoming an assertion of executive privilege,” adding that the needs of the committees are “insufficient to outweigh the deleterious effects that productions of the recordings would have on the integrity and effectiveness of similar law enforcement investigations in the future”.

Hours later, on Thursday morning, the White House told House Republicans that Mr Biden was using his executive privilege to decline to release the audio – a move that essentially removes the possibility of criminal prosecution against Mr Garland for not complying with the subpoenas.

But, in a largely symbolic move, Republicans chose to push ahead and recommend that the attorney general be held in contempt anyway.

Now, a majority of the full House must vote to hold him in contempt before it can be handed to US Attorney Matthew Graves, to decide whether or not to file criminal charges. This means that several vulnerable Republican moderates in seats they may lose in the autumn would have to vote for a measure even as they have shared concerns about their party’s growing battle with the Department of Justice.

GOP lawmakers have also not ruled out bringing a lawsuit in another bid to get the recordings.

The Hur investigation into Mr Biden’s handling of classified documents has now been dragged into the quagmire that is the Republican impeachment inquiry into the president, which has so far mostly focused on his family’s foreign business dealings while failing to find any evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Mr Biden.

Democrats argued that Republicans wanted the audio to allow the Trump campaign to use it in ads and to breathe new life into their fledgling attempt to impeach Mr Biden.

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