Biden Shields Merrick Garland From GOP Congressional-Contempt Scheme

President Joe Biden has asserted executive privilege over audio recordings of his interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur — ostensibly in a bid to shield Attorney General Merrick Garland from a Republican scheme to hold him in contempt of Congress. House Republicans plan to move forward anyway.

The recordings relate to a deposition given by Biden to the special counsel regarding his handling of classified documents found at his home and office. The interview itself became a point of contention between the White House and the Justice Department, after Hur described the president “as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” and claimed Biden could not remember the date his son Beau died. The White House strongly condemned the characterization of the president’s mental faculties, calling the report, released in February, “highly prejudicial” against Biden.

Hur declined to prosecute Biden in relation to his retention of classified documents, a notable decision given that former President Donald Trump is currently under federal indictment regarding his own mishandling of classified documents. Hur’s report — and decision to not move forward with charges against Biden — spurred a frenzy amongst House Republican lawmakers, who have demanded the recordings despite having been provided a full transcript of the interview.

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee planned to vote on advancing a resolution holding Garland in contempt of Congress for the Justice Department’s refusal to provide the audio, and the House Oversight Committee is expected to take a similar vote later this week.

“Because of the President’s longstanding commitment to protecting the integrity, effectiveness, and independence of the Department of Justice and its law enforcement investigations, he has decided to assert executive privilege over the recordings,” White House counsel Ed Siskel wrote in a letter to the committee on Thursday.

“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,” Siskel added, citing the fact that the committees already have full access to the contents of the interview.

In a separate letter, Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte wrote that “the Attorney General must draw a line that safeguards the Department from improper political influence and protects our principles, our law enforcement work, and the people who carry out that work independently, without fear or favor.”

Uriarte added that Justice Department policy has “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.”

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee voted to advance the resolution regardless of those protections, and the House Oversight Committee is expected to take a similar vote later this week.

Garland himself requested that Biden assert privilege over the recordings in a May 15 letter to the president. “The Committees’ needs are plainly insufficient to outweigh the deleterious effects that production of the recordings would have on the integrity and effectiveness of similar law enforcement investigations in the future,” he wrote. “I therefore respectfully request that you assert executive privilege over the subpoenaed recordings. I also request that you make a protective assertion of executive privilege with respect to any other materials responsive to the subpoenas that have not already been produced.”

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