Biden Blocks Release of Interview Tapes on Classified Papers

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden has exerted executive privilege over recordings from the investigation into his handling of classified documents, escalating a fight with congressional Republicans as a committee voted Thursday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress.

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“It is the longstanding position of the executive branch held by administrations of both parties that an official who asserts the President’s claim of executive privilege cannot be prosecuted for criminal contempt of Congress,” the Justice Department wrote in a letter Thursday to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and House Oversight Chairman James Comer.

As part of an impeachment inquiry into Biden, the two have been seeking the audio recordings of Biden’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur, who was appointed by Garland to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents. They have scheduled votes for later Thursday to hold Garland in contempt of Congress for failing to provide the recordings.

“We have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the committees get responses to their legitimate requests but this is not one,” Garland told reporters. “To the contrary, this is one that would harm our ability in the future to successfully pursue sensitive investigations.”

The House Judiciary Committee voted 18-15 along party lines to hold Garland in contempt after the letter became public. The measure will now be sent to the full House for approval.

‘Unfounded Attacks’

Garland said that there have been “a series of unprecedented and frankly unfounded attacks on the Justice Department,” adding that “this effort to use contempt as a method of obtaining our sensitive law enforcement files is just the most recent.”

The administration has already given a lightly redacted transcript of the entire Hur interview to the congressional committees.

The Justice Department said in the letter that Biden “is making a protective assertion of privilege.”

“We have repeatedly made clear that disclosure of the subpoenaed audio recordings would damage future law enforcement efforts and that the committee’s continued demands raise serious separation of powers concerns,” according to the letter.

Separately, a number of news media organizations, including Bloomberg, and think tanks have sued the Justice Department to gain access to the recordings.

‘Well-Meaning Elderly Man’

Hur issued his final report in February, saying Biden knowingly stored and disclosed classified information kept in unsecured locations but the evidence found didn’t support bringing charges. Hur and his team identified several reasons they weren’t recommending charges against Biden, among them what his defenses during any trial might be — including that he has a frail memory.

“Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory,” they wrote.

Former President Donald Trump, who is running against Biden this year, has been charged by another special counsel with mishandling classified documents and obstructing justice at his Florida resort. Hur drew distinctions between the two investigations and pointed out that Trump allegedly refused to return the secrets while Biden turned them over to authorities himself.

“Unlike the evidence involving Mr. Biden, the allegations set forth in the indictment of Mr. Trump, if proven, would present serious aggravating facts,” according to Hur’s report. “Most notably, after being given multiple chances to return classified documents and avoid prosecution, Mr. Trump allegedly did the opposite.”

--With assistance from Jordan Fabian.

(Updates with House vote to hold Garland in contempt.)

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