2 House Panels Clear Contempt Resolutions Against AG Garland

Samantha Flom
By Samantha Flom
May 16, 2024Congress
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2 House Panels Clear Contempt Resolutions Against AG Garland
Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers remarks at an event honoring the anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, at the Justice Department in Washington on May 14, 2024. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Republicans on two House committees voted to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress on Thursday night despite President Joe Biden’s intervention to block them from obtaining his recorded interviews with special counsel Robert Hur.

After a spirited debate, members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 18–15 on May 16 to approve a resolution to hold Mr. Garland in contempt for refusing to provide impeachment investigators with the recordings in defiance of congressional subpoenas.

The House Oversight Committee followed suit hours later, voting 24-20 to approve their own resolution.

The Epoch Times has contacted the Justice Department for comment.

The vote came hours after the president, at Mr. Garland’s request, asserted executive privilege over the recordings, precluding prosecution of the attorney general for his noncompliance.

The tapes were recorded during Mr. Hur’s investigation of President Biden’s handling of classified documents. Although the special counsel concluded that the president had willfully retained and disclosed classified materials in violation of the law, he ultimately decided not to prosecute, reasoning that a jury would be sympathetic toward an “elderly man with a poor memory.”

Republicans pointed to that decision Thursday as reason for them to hear the recordings for themselves.

“If our commander-in-chief is so incompetent that he cannot stand trial—if he’s not fit to stand trial—then he’s too incompetent, for God’s sake, to be the leader of the most powerful nation on the face of the earth,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-N.J.) said.

“And if President Biden is competent and special counsel Hur’s assessment was incorrect, then President Biden should face a jury for his crimes of mishandling classified materials,” he added.

‘What’s the Big Deal?’

While the Justice Department has provided the Judiciary and Oversight and Accountability committees with transcripts of the solicited recordings, the department has refused to turn over the recordings themselves.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee argued that investigators don’t need the recordings as they already have the transcripts of the interviews. But transcripts, Republican members argued, can be altered, and do not convey other information, such as the speaker’s inflections or tone of voice.

“Transcripts alone are not sufficient evidence of the state of the president’s memory, right? Because the White House has a track record of altering the transcripts,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, citing the White House’s past scrubbing of the president’s gaffes from transcripts of his speeches.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), however, argued that there was “no evidence whatsoever” that the transcripts had been doctored.

“This transcript was produced by Robert Hur’s office. Robert Hur was appointed by Donald Trump. He is a Republican appointee. The notion that somehow this transcript is fake is a wild, insane conspiracy theory,” Mr. Lieu said.

He went on to suggest that Republicans only wanted the transcripts so they could “smear” President Biden over his stuttering problem.

Meanwhile, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) charged that the move to hold Mr. Garland in contempt was a political stunt to benefit former President Donald Trump.

“This is about doing everything to help Donald Trump, who you see as your client, who a New York criminal trial sees as a defendant, to help him win an election. So, I have no interest in playing this game; the American people have no interest in playing this game,” Mr. Swalwell said.

But Mr. Van Drew dismissed the mention of President Trump as a distraction.

“That’s not why we’re here,” he said, holding that President Biden’s fitness for office is a pressing concern that the committee needs to scrutinize.

“And by the way, if it’s no big deal, as the other side says, because we have the transcripts. Well, we do have the transcript, so why do you care so much about us getting the audio? What’s the big deal?” he asked.

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) seemed to provide his own answer to that question earlier in the day at a press conference.

“President Biden is apparently afraid for the citizens of this country and everyone to hear those tapes,” Mr. Johnson said. “They obviously confirm what the special counsel has found, and would likely cause, I suppose, in his estimation, such alarm of the American people that the president is using all of his power to suppress their release.”

Moving Forward

President Biden’s counsel, Ed Siskel, advised both committees Thursday morning that executive privilege had been invoked, accusing the chairmen of political partisanship.

“The absence of a legitimate need for the audio recordings lays bare your likely goal—to chop them up, distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes,” he wrote. “Demanding such sensitive and constitutionally-protected law enforcement materials from the Executive Branch because you want to manipulate them for potential political gain is inappropriate.”

In his letter to President Biden, the attorney general’s cited reason for withholding the recordings was that their release would have “deleterious effects” on the integrity of similar law enforcement investigations down the road.

Urging the president to assert executive privilege, Mr. Garland added that he did not think the House committees could overcome such an assertion if the matter wound up in court.

Typically, with the full House’s approval, a contempt of Congress citation would be sent to the appropriate U.S. attorney to pursue charges. But in this case, the assertion of executive privilege means Mr. Garland will be shielded from prosecution pending a legal challenge.

The Oversight and Accountability Committee is slated to hold its own markup of another resolution to hold Mr. Garland in contempt at 8 p.m.

Jackson Richman contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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