House Republicans are ready to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt over Biden audio

Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before the House Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies budget hearing on Capitol Hill, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf) (Kevin Wolf, Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

WASHINGTON – House Republicans plan to move forward next week with holding Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for his refusal to turn over the unredacted audio of an interview that was conducted as part of the special counsel probe into President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.

The House Judiciary Committee is set to convene on May 16 to advance contempt charges against the Cabinet official, according to a person familiar with the matter who was granted anonymity to discuss plans not yet made public. The resolution would then go to the full House for a vote.

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The contempt proceedings are just the latest flare-up in the increasingly tense relationship between Republicans and the Justice Department. House Republicans last month threatened to hold Garland in contempt for refusing to fully comply with a congressional subpoena issued as part their probe into Special Counsel Robert Hur’s decision not to charge the president with any crimes.

Republicans — led by Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and James Comer of Kentucky — had ordered the department to turn over audio of Hur's interviews with Biden by early April. But the Justice Department only turned over some of the records, excluding the audio interview with the president. They warned of the precedent that would be set for future investigations if the audio was provided.

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte, the department’s head of congressional affairs, said in the letter to Jordan and Comer last month that the committees' interest in these records may not be “in service of legitimate oversight or investigatory functions, but to serve political purposes that should have no role in the treatment of law enforcement files.”

Comer dismissed that rationale, saying in response that the Biden administration “does not get to determine what Congress needs and does not need for its oversight of the executive branch.”

Contempt charges would require majority support in committee and then the support of the full House before a referral would be sent to the Justice Department. Should the House hold Garland in contempt, it is unlikely that the Justice Department — which Garland oversees — would prosecute him.

The last time an attorney general was held in contempt was 2012. That was when the GOP-controlled House voted to make then-Attorney General Eric Holder the first sitting Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to the gun-running operation known as Operation Fast and Furious.

The Justice Department took no action against Holder.

The special counsel in Biden's case, Hur, spent a year investigating the president's improper retention of classified documents, from his time as a senator and as vice president. The result was a 345-page report that questioned Biden’s age and mental competence but recommended no criminal charges for the 81-year-old. Hur said he found insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a case in court.

In March, Hur stood by the assessment made in his report in testimony before the Judiciary Committee, where he was grilled for more than four hours by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

But his defense did not satisfy Republicans, who insists that there is a politically motivated double standard at the Justice Department, which is prosecuting former President Donald Trump over his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.

But there are major differences between the two probes. Biden’s team returned the documents after they were discovered, and the president cooperated with the investigation by voluntarily sitting for an interview and consenting to searches of his homes. Trump, by contrast, is accused of enlisting the help of aides and lawyers to conceal the documents from the government and allegedly sought to have potentially incriminating evidence destroyed.

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