Republicans vote to hold Garland in contempt of Congress

Republicans vote to hold Garland in contempt of Congress

House Republicans voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress after he declined to turn over subpoenaed audio of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur.

The 216-207 vote is a win for the House GOP, after numerous members privately voiced concern over backing the measure, leaving the Republican priority lingering for nearly a month. With Republicans’ razor-thin House majority, they could afford to lose only two votes if every member was present.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-Ohio) was the lone GOP “no” vote.

Republicans already have the transcript of the conversation, and while the president discussed no items relevant to their impeachment investigation, the GOP has nonetheless connected the issue to their probe.

House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) kicked off debate Wednesday by accusing the Justice Department of trying “to cover up President Biden’s wrongdoing.”

They also see the audio as a vehicle for exploring Hur’s comments that Biden had a poor memory.

Democrats meanwhile argued the move was an effort to aid an imploding impeachment probe, with Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) calling Garland “collateral damage for [this] failed effort to impeach the president of the United States.”

While the vote makes for a formal censure of Garland, it’s unlikely to yield any tangible results. Such measures serve as referrals to the Justice Department, which must then weigh whether they merit prosecution.

President Biden has claimed executive privilege over the tapes, and an internal Justice Department opinion obtained by The Hill ahead of the vote indicates the department considers that a valid legal basis for sidestepping the subpoena.

“It is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon. 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,” Garland said in a statement after the vote.

“I will always stand up for this Department, its employees, and its vital mission to defend our democracy.”

Joyce likewise said it was a politicized move.

“As a former prosecutor, I cannot in good conscience support a resolution that would further politicize our judicial system to score political points. The American people expect Congress to work for them, solve policy problems, and prioritize good governance. Enough is enough,” he said in a statement after the vote.

During debate Wednesday, Republicans argued the audio they sought could be key to their investigations.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) suggested Biden may have kept classified information to help him write his memoir. Hur determined there was not enough evidence to support a claim that the president intentionally held onto the records found at his office and home and noted the book does not contain classified information.

“President Biden had strong motivations to ignore proper procedures for safeguarding the classified information in his notebooks. He had decided months before leaving office to write a book, a book for which he got paid $8 million,” Jordan said before referencing former President Trump’s legal battles.

“One former president is being charged, Joe Biden is not being, and we think we’re entitled — actually, we know we’re entitled — to all the evidence.”

At another point during debate, Comer asked, “What is the Biden administration trying to hide?”

“Attorney General Merrick Garland’s refusal to produce this evidence establishes a clear pattern of obstruction by the DOJ to cover up President Biden’s wrongdoing,” he said.

They were mocked by Democrats, however, for suggesting there was any such detail to be unearthed in a conversation already memorialized in a 250-page transcript.

“In case you’ve lost the thread of this madcap wild goose chase, America, remember this is an impeachment investigation. Do they think that the holy grail of the 118th Congress, evidence of a presidential high crime and misdemeanor, is lurking in the pauses or the background throat clearings and sneezes on the audio tape? Well, of course not,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the Oversight panel, said during debate.

“They’re hoping that in the five hours of President Biden’s testimony, they can find a mispronounced word or phrase or a brief stammer which they can then turn into an embarrassing political TV attack ad.”

And former House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) cast it as red meat for the MAGA base, noting that Trump will soon face sentencing following his conviction by a New York jury on 34 counts related to falsifying business records to conceal hush money payments to an adult film start ahead of the election.

“This resolution may boost Donald Trump’s spirits before his sentencing, but it will almost certainly not convince the Department of Justice to produce the one remaining file in question,” he said.

Republicans had said they needed the tape to verify that the transcript they have is accurate.

But the Justice Department in a court filing in a separate legal battle to obtain the audio certified the transcript was accurate, noting that “filler words” like “um” or “uh” were not included nor were repeated words “I, I.”

“The transcripts accurately capture the words spoken during the interview on the audio recording with no material differences,” the department said.

Updated at 5:13 p.m. EDT

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