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Key House committees vote to advance contempt proceedings against Garland over Biden audio files



CNN

Two Republican-led House committees voted Thursday to advance contempt proceedings against Attorney General Merrick Garland for his refusal to turn over audio recordings of President Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur.

The move marks a major escalation in a dispute over the recordings between House Republicans and the executive branch, which came after Biden claimed executive privilege over the files.

The House Judiciary and Oversight committees both approved a report recommending a contempt of Congress resolution against Garland for failing to comply with a congressional subpoena, clearing the way for the full House vote House on contempt of attorney general, although it is unclear when. this vote could take place.

The vote was along party lines in both committees.

Republicans seized on Hur’s description of Biden as an “older, well-meaning man with a poor memory” in his final report, a characterization Biden disputed. Republicans say access to the tapes would provide valuable information beyond what a written transcript can provide, but the Justice Department has raised questions about whether the House GOP is seeking the audio files solely for political purposes and maintains that they have distinct privacy concerns to protect. .

The special counsel’s report quickly became a political issue for the president, highlighting a problem that has proven intractable for Biden: his age. The White House and Biden’s campaign reacted with fury to Hur’s characterization of the president, launching a fierce defense aimed at pushing back against the special prosecutor’s allegations that Biden had forgotten — particularly on the question of whether the president remembered the year his son died.

Republican lawmakers previously subpoenaed audio recordings of Biden’s interviews, as well as his ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer, and other materials from Hur’s investigation into Biden’s handling of classified information.

The transcript of the two-day interview between Hur’s team and Biden was released in March ahead of Hur’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Hur did not recommend charges against Biden in his report.

Through their DOJ subpoenas, House Republicans have argued that the audio recordings are crucial to their impeachment investigation of Biden, which remains stalled because the chances of the inquiry ending in impeachment are more and more improbable. Without the votes of their narrow majority or evidence of an impeachable offense, Republicans are now struggling to know how to end their investigation and are looking for ways to target other members of the Biden administration.

The White House stressed that the Justice Department had already provided transcripts of the special counsel’s interviews with Biden and his ghostwriter, and had complied with other aspects of the Republicans’ initial subpoena.

“Due to the President’s long-standing commitment to protecting the integrity, effectiveness, and independence of the Department of Justice and its investigations of law enforcement, he has decided to assert privilege executive on the recordings,” White House counsel Edward Siskel wrote to House Oversight Chairman James. Comer and House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan.

Siskel accused Republicans of wanting to distort audio recordings and criticized them for going after prosecutors with whom they disagree.

“The lack of a legitimate need for the audio recordings lays bare your likely purpose: to cut them up, distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes,” Siskel wrote.

In light of the White House’s assertion of executive privilege, the Justice Department called on House Republicans to cancel their planned contempt proceedings.

“With the information currently available to you, committees should not proceed with contempt and should instead avoid unnecessary and unwarranted conflict,” wrote Office of Legislative Affairs Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte.

Uriarte also defended the need to protect the audio tapes: “We have repeatedly made clear that disclosure of subpoenaed audio recordings would harm future law enforcement efforts and that the commissions’ continued requests raise serious concerns regarding the separation of powers. »

In April, CNN filed a lawsuit seeking access to recordings of Biden’s interview.

Garland denounced Republican-led attacks on the Justice Department in remarks following the announcement that Biden would assert executive privilege.

“The Department of Justice is a fundamental institution of our democracy,” Garland told reporters at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. “People are counting on us to ensure that our investigations and prosecutions are conducted in accordance with the facts and the law and without political influence. »

The White House asserted executive privilege at the request of Garland, who wrote to the president on Wednesday.

In their contempt filings, Republicans said the DOJ cannot determine what information is relevant to their investigation, and argued that the verbal nuances of an audio recording provide unique insight into a subject that is not not reflected in a transcript.

“The Constitution does not authorize the executive branch to dictate to Congress how to conduct or provide oversight of an impeachment inquiry,” the report said.

The Republicans, for their part, say in their report that while the interview transcripts reflect what was said, “they do not reflect important verbal context, such as tone or tenor, or nonverbal context, such as breaks or the rhythm of the performance.

Such pauses and inflections, Republicans say, “can provide insights into a witness’s ability to remember events, or whether the individual is intentionally giving evasive or insensitive testimony to investigators.”

Republicans pointed to a recent example of a discrepancy between a transcript and an audio recording of the president, saying that during a speech last month, Biden read aloud a teleprompter signal during his speech, which was reflected in the recording of the event but not in the initial transcription of his remarks.

The House Oversight Committee pushed back its Thursday markup start time so Republican committee members could attend former President Donald Trump’s criminal trial in New York, two sources told CNN close to the file.

When asked for comment on the reason for the schedule change, a spokeswoman for the oversight committee told CNN: “Due to scheduling conflicts among members, marking now begins at a different time for adapt to members’ schedules. »

Once the Oversight Committee’s markup proceedings began, it didn’t take long to descend into chaos as Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York briefly engaged in a stormy back and forth.

The markup took place late into the night before the panel voted to pursue contempt proceedings against Garland.

This story and headline have been updated with additional developments.

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