House to vote on holding Merrick Garland in contempt over Biden audio

Washington — The House is scheduled to vote Wednesday on holding Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas related to President Biden’s handling of classified documents. 

The Republican-led House Judiciary and Oversight committees have demanded that Garland hand over the audio recordings of the president’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur as part of their impeachment inquiry. 

Mr. Biden asserted executive privilege over the recordings of Hur interviews with the president and the ghostwriter of his book as the committees moved forward with contempt resolutions against Garland. 

A vote on the House floor has been up in the air since the committees voted along party-lines in May to recommend Garland be held in contempt. It’s not clear whether Republicans have enough support to pass the measure — they can only afford to lose two defections with their razor-thin majority if all members are present and voting. House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, said he was confident his party had enough votes to get it over the finish line. 

If the resolution passes, it would direct the House speaker to refer the case to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia for potential criminal prosecution. 

A House Judiciary Committee report argued the audio recordings of the interviews are of “superior evidentiary value” because the transcripts the Justice Department provided Congress “do not reflect important verbal context, such as tone or tenor, or nonverbal context, such as pauses or pace of delivery.” It also asserts the transcripts are “insufficient to arbitrate this dispute as to President Biden’s mental state.” 

Hur, who was appointed by Garland, released a 345-page report in February that outlined Mr. Biden’s handling of classified documents that he kept after serving as vice president. Hur declined to seek criminal charges, saying the evidence did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Biden violated the law. The special counsel made a number of observations about the president’s memory that enraged the White House and provided political leverage to Republicans. 

The Justice Department has argued disclosure of the recordings could have a chilling effect on witness cooperation in future high-profile investigations. 

“I view contempt as a serious matter,” Garland said at a Judiciary Committee hearing on June 4. “But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations.”

Republicans say executive privilege was waived when the Justice Department turned over the transcripts, and also claim the transcripts have been altered. 

Democrats have called the effort a political stunt and say the Justice Department has cooperated substantially with GOP requests in the their impeachment investigation, which stalled earlier this year after testimony from the president’s son, Hunter Biden, failed to deliver a smoking gun. 

“They want to pore over five hours of President Biden’s taped interview to search not for an impeachable offense — because they know that doesn’t exist at this point — but for a verbal mistake, like a mispronounced name that they can turn into a political TV attack ad in the presidential campaign,” Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday. 

Cabinet officials being held in contempt of Congress is not without precedent. In 2019, the Democratic-controlled House voted to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for defying congressional subpoenas related to a dispute over the 2020 census. The Republican-led House voted to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012 over his failure to turn over documents related to the Fast and Furious scandal

— Ellis Kim contributed reporting. 

Original CBS News Link</a