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Garland won’t face contempt of Congress charge over Biden audio

Justice Department tells House it will not prosecute the attorney general

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland waits to testify during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in April.
Attorney General Merrick B. Garland waits to testify during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing in April. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Justice Department said Friday it would not prosecute Attorney General Merrick B. Garland after the House held him in contempt of Congress earlier this week over a subpoena dispute.

House Republicans, who adopted the contempt measure on a nearly party-line vote, said the Justice Department had refused to release audio of former special counsel Robert K. Hur’s interview with President Joe Biden, despite subpoenas from the House Judiciary Committee and the House Oversight and Accountability Committee.

In a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson dated Friday, a Justice Department official said 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,” Carlos Felipe Uriarte, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legislative Affairs, wrote in the letter.

The interview was conducted as part of a probe into Biden’s handling of classified materials, and a transcript of the interview has been released. Last month, Biden invoked executive privilege over the audio.

The department pointed to that executive privilege invocation in the letter.

“The longstanding position of the Department is that we will not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide subpoenaed information subject to a presidential assertion of executive privilege,” Uriarte wrote.

With the House vote, Garland became the third sitting attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress, after Eric Holder during the Obama administration and William Barr during the Trump administration. The Justice Department did not pursue a criminal charge against either — something Uriarte pointed out in the letter.

House Republicans argued that the Biden interview transcripts do not reflect the president’s tone and nonverbal context, such as pauses or his pace of delivery. The audio is needed to conduct oversight of the special counsel’s decision not to charge Biden, Republicans argued.

The contempt vote came after the two Republican-controlled committees — House Judiciary and the House Oversight — had issued subpoenas to compel the production of audio recordings of Hur’s interviews with the president and a ghostwriter who worked with Biden, according to the GOP lawmakers on those panels.

In his letter, Uriarte said that the Justice Department provided Hur’s report “without any additional redactions” and “facilitated his congressional testimony.”

After the vote on Wednesday, Garland criticized the contempt push, saying in a statement that “it is deeply disappointing that this House of Representatives has turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon.”

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