House Plans Vote on Holding Attorney General in Contempt Over Biden Audio

House Plans Vote on Holding Attorney General in Contempt Over Biden Audio

House Republicans planned to vote as early as Wednesday to hold Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in contempt of Congress after the Justice Department refused to comply with subpoenas demanding audio recordings of President Biden’s interview with the special counsel investigating his handling of classified documents.

The Justice Department has already made public a transcript of Mr. Biden’s interview with the special counsel, Robert K. Hur, but House Republicans have pushed for the release of the audio of the interview, arguing they need the recordings to examine the president’s mental fitness.

Democrats have condemned the proceeding as Republicans abusing their congressional powers and seeking to use the audio for political purposes.

“The attorney general has substantially complied with their every request,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, adding that the Justice Department under Mr. Biden has cooperated far more extensively with requests from Republican lawmakers than it did under the Trump administration.

In February, Mr. Hur, a former Justice Department official in the Trump administration, dropped a political bomb into the 2024 campaign, releasing a nearly 400-page final report summing up his investigation. Mr. Hur concluded that Mr. Biden should not face criminal charges, but a single line from his report handed Republicans significant political ammunition.

Mr. Hur wrote that a jury might view the president as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”

Mr. Biden has asserted executive privilege to deny House Republicans access to recordings. That move is intended to shield Mr. Garland from prosecution if House Republicans succeed in holding him in contempt.

Republican leaders expect the measure to pass, but it could be a politically tricky vote for Republicans who represent districts won by Mr. Biden.

Should the House vote to hold Mr. Garland in contempt, that recommendation would then go to the U.S. attorney in Washington to consider whether to prosecute the case. Under federal law, contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor charge that carries a fine of $100 to $100,000 and a jail sentence of one month to one year.

In the last Congress, the Justice Department prosecuted two of four allies of Mr. Trump who were held in contempt after they refused to cooperate with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol. They were Peter Navarro, who is currently serving a four-month prison sentence after his conviction on the contempt charge, and Stephen K. Bannon, who has been instructed by a federal judge to report by July 1 to serve his four-month sentence on the charge.

Given the highly politicized nature of Congress in the modern era, holdings of contempt have become almost a rite of passage for attorneys general.

The Justice Department cited executive privilege in opting not to pursue charges against two of Mr. Garland’s predecessors when they were held in contempt: Eric H. Holder Jr., a Democrat, in 2012 and William P. Barr, a Republican, in 2020.

Democrats argued the contempt proceedings were intended to distract from their failed drive to impeach Mr. Biden and former President Donald J. Trump’s felony conviction in New York on charges that he falsified business records to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star.

“Republicans have weaponized committee after committee to the point that it is doing great damage to this institution,” Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, said of the contempt proceedings.

But Representative Guy Reschenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania, said that the matter was a straightforward case of Congress enforcing a subpoena with which Mr. Garland was out of compliance.

“Can the executive branch defy a subpoena that is lawfully issued and is also valid?” he asked. “I would make the argument that the answer to that is no.”

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