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Republican-led House votes to hold AG Garland in contempt of Congress

Republicans allege that Garland and the U.S. Department of Justice have not been impartial in their investigations into President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump.
Merrick Garland
Posted at 9:46 AM, Jun 12, 2024

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 216-207 to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. Eight members of the House did not vote.
One Republican voted with Democrats against the contempt motion.

Wednesday's vote was in response to the Justice Department refusing to turn over audiotapes of President Biden's interview with a special prosecutor over classified documents.

It all stemmed from the Justice Department's refusal to release audio recordings of an interview with President Joe Biden regarding an investigation into whether he — as vice president — improperly kept classified documents. The investigation ended earlier this year without charges against President Biden, with special counsel Robert Hur issuing a final report that described the 81-year-old president's memory as "poor" and having "significant limitations" that would have made it "difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him."

Joe Biden

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Biden's memory 'poor': Special counsel report raises age concerns

AP via Scripps News
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"He did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended ('if it was 2013 — when did I stop being Vice President?'), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began ('in 2009, am I still Vice President?')," the report stated. "He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died."

Read: Full report from special counsel Robert Hur

Despite already having transcripts from Hur's interview with President Biden, House Republicans say they need the recordings because they may provide valuable information beyond what's in the transcripts.

"As a long-practicing attorney, they are not the same thing. The audio is the best evidence of what he said, how he said it, the time that it took for him to say it, and in what ways they may have altered that transcript." said Rep. Harriet Hageman of Wyoming. "The moment that they released the transcript and said 'This is the interview,' they waived their ability to claim any kind of a privilege and they don't have a legally valid privilege."

It's not just House Republicans who are after those audio recordings. A group of media organizations — including Scripps News parent company E.W. Scripps — have a lawsuit in federal court to try to get access to those recordings.

Merrick Garland

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Attorney General Merrick Garland tells lawmakers he 'will not be intimidated'

Scripps News Staff
6:44 PM, Jun 04, 2024

At this point it appears unlikely that the Biden administration will turn over the recordings, as the president has invoked executive privilege over the tapes, protecting Garland from further investigation. Democrats, meanwhile, say it's simply not necessary for the DOJ to release the tapes, and that Republicans are seeking to use them as political ammo against President Biden's reelection campaign.

"These attacks on our justice system have to come to a stop," said Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts. "They are dangerous. They're irresponsible. They're nothing but false conspiracy theories being pushed to try and excuse the actions of the former president (Trump)."

In a statement following Wednesday's vote, Garland again pushed back on what he characterized as a political attack on the DOJ.

“It is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon," Garland said. "Today’s vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the Justice Department’s need to protect its investigations, and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the Committees. I will always stand up for this Department, its employees, and its vital mission to defend our democracy.”

Garland becomes the third U.S. Attorney General to be held in contempt of Congress.

Most recently, in 2019 the Democratically-controlled House voted to hold then-Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt for withholding documents concerning a special counsel investigation into Donald Trump.

The Justice Department has never followed up on prosecuting its own Attorney General.