Mike Johnson vows to sue for Joe Biden tapes in Merrick Garland subpoena battle with Republicans

House Speaker Mike Johnson wants a federal court to enforce a subpoena against Attorney General Merrick Garland after the Department of Justice announced it would not pursue a criminal case him.

“The House disagrees with the assertions in the letter from the Department of Justice, and as Speaker, I will be certifying the contempt reports to the US Attorney for the District of Columbia. We will also move to enforce the subpoena of Attorney General Garland in federal court,” Speaker Johnson wrote on X on Friday.

On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted 216 to 207 to hold Garland in contempt for defying a subpoena for audio tapes from an interview with President Joe Biden, with only one Republican joining Democratic members in opposition, marking the House GOP’s latest move in a flailing investigation into the president and his administration.

Garland’s responses to subpoenas issued by GOP-controlled committees – which called on the attorney general to release audio recordings from Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur – “did not constitute a crime,” the Justice Department wrote on Friday. House Republicans already have transcripts of the interview, which is also publicly available.

In his letter to Speaker Johnson on Friday, Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte stated the president had asserted executive privilege over the tapes, and that the decision was in line with how the Justice Department handled contempt resolutions against Garland’s predecessors.

Attorney General Merrick Garland. DOJ officials say they will not pursue a criminal case against him (AP)
Attorney General Merrick Garland. DOJ officials say they will not pursue a criminal case against him (AP)

“Consistent with this longstanding position and uniform practice, the Department has determined that the responses by Attorney General Garland to the subpoenas issued by the Committees did not constitute a crime, and accordingly the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General further,” Uriarte wrote.

In his social media post on Friday, Speaker Johnson argued the DOJ’s response was a sign of a “two-tiered system of justice.”

“It is sadly predictable that the Biden Administration’s Justice Department will not prosecute Garland for defying congressional subpoenas even though the department aggressively prosecuted Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro for the same thing,” he wrote.

The circumstances of those cases are quite different from the current dispute with the attorney general.

In January, Navarro, the former Trump administration trade advisor, was sentenced to four months in prison for contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas issued by the January 6 investigation in Congress. Investigators were seeking more information about his involvement in efforts to challenge the 2020 election, including a call with Trump about a plan to persuade state officials to push back against the official election certification.

Navarro argued he was directed by Trump to claim executive privilege, but a judge found he hadn’t done enough to prove this assertion.

In 2022, Bannon, a former Trump advisor, was found in contempt of Congress, after he refused to sit for a deposition and provide documents to the committee regarding his involvement in the Trump campaign’s 2020 pushback efforts.

He argued he was protected by executive privilege, and wanted a Trump lawyer with him before testifying.

Courts have rejected these arguments, finding that Bannon was a private citizen, after being fired from the Trump administration in 2017, by the time of his conduct at issue.

In a statement earlier this week, Garland said it was “deeply disappointing” the House turned a “serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon.”

The 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,” he added.

According to a memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, “because the committees have the transcripts of the special counsel’s interviews, the needs the committees have articulated for the recordings are plainly insufficient to overcome a privilege claim grounded in these important separation of powers concerns.”

“The audio recording will not reveal any information relevant to the committees’ stated needs that is not available in the transcripts,” the memo reads.

The department’s decision effectively closes that case over a contempt charge by the House (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)
The department’s decision effectively closes that case over a contempt charge by the House (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Republicans voted overwhelmingly late last year to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president, largely, at Donald Trump’s request.

“They’re all part of a cult and they just try to please the leader of the cult Donald Trump,” according to Democratic Representative Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the House Rules Committee.

McGovern also noted that House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan did not comply with a congressional subpoena related to a select committee’s investigation into January 6 and the attack on the Capitol.

House Oversight Committee chair James Comer denied that the vote against Garland had anything to do with Trump’s visit to the Capitol this week.

“The Democrats continue to prove they’re not serious about oversight or accountability,” he told The Independent.

Additional reporting by Eric Garica