House Takes Steps to Hold Attorney General in Contempt

The U.S. Department of Justice is refusing to turn over subpoenaed audio recordings.
House Takes Steps to Hold Attorney General in Contempt
Attorney General Merrick Garland appears at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 16, 2024. (Andrew Harnik/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

Two top lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 13 took steps to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, recommended the lower chamber hold Mr. Garland, who was appointed by President Joe Biden, in contempt for failing to comply with congressional subpoenas.

Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), meanwhile, scheduled a hearing this week to advance a resolution to hold Mr. Garland in contempt.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) did not respond to a request for comment.

The actions come after the DOJ, Mr. Garland’s department, declined to provide the House with audio tapes of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur, despite subpoenas being issued for the tapes. The department also refused to hand over recordings of President Biden’s ghostwriter speaking with Mr. Hur, who was appointed by Mr. Garland.
Mr. Hur said in his report that President Biden intentionally kept and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency ended. President Biden repeatedly consulted the documents after leaving office for a book, one of the “strong motivations” to not comply with rules governing retention of materials marked classified, according to the report.
But Mr. Hur determined that no criminal charges were appropriate, in part because “the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Committee Chairs Say DOJ Withholding Materials

Republicans in April threatened to hold Mr. Garland in contempt if he and his department failed to produce the tapes they wanted.

“If the department continues to withhold materials responsive to the committees’ subpoenas ... we will have no choice but to invoke contempt of Congress proceedings,” Mr. Jordan and Mr. Comer, the chairman of the House Oversight Committee, which issued one of the subpoenas, said in a letter to the attorney general.

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte said in response in a recent missive that the Biden administration asked lawmakers to explain how the audio recordings “would serve the purposes for which you say you want them” but that lawmakers “have not articulated a legitimate congressional need to obtain audio recordings from Mr. Hur’s investigation, let alone one that outweighs the department’s strong interest in protecting the confidentiality of law enforcement files.”

He noted that the department did turn over some files sought by lawmakers, including transcripts of the interviews with President Biden and the ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer.

Releasing the tapes might complicate matters in the future, the department alleges.

“To go further by producing the audio files would compound the likelihood that future prosecutors will be unable to secure this level of cooperation,” Mr. Uriarte wrote. “They might have a harder time obtaining consent to an interview at all. It is clearly not in the public interest to render such cooperation with prosecutors and investigators less likely in the future.”

In his new report, Mr. Jordan said that the audio recordings are important because the transcripts of the interviews with President Biden and Mr. Zwonitzer “do not reflect important verbal context, such as tone or tenor, or nonverbal context, such as pauses or pace of delivery.”

Pauses and inflections, for instance, can give important indications about an interviewee’s ability to recall events, according to the report.

“The verbal nuances in President Biden’s answers about his mishandling of classified information would assist the Committees’ inquiry into whether he abused his office of public trust for his family’s financial gain,” Mr. Jordan said.

He said that the department “continues to withhold key material responsive to the subpoenas” even though it has “invoked no constitutional or legal privilege to support withholding this material.”

“Its failure to fully comply with the committees’ subpoenas has hindered the House’s ability to adequately conduct oversight over special counsel Hur regarding his investigative findings and the president’s retention and disclosure of classified materials and impeded the committees’ impeachment inquiry,” Mr. Jordan said.

Congressional Oversight

House Republicans have been probing President Biden in a formal impeachment inquiry, which was authorized by the lower chamber in late 2023. The Constitution also empowers Congress to conduct oversight and investigations.

Republicans currently control the House with a 217–213 majority. A simple majority is required to hold Mr. Garland in contempt if a House committee advances a contempt resolution to the full House. Because Republicans enjoy a majority in the House, they control each committee as well.

Mr. Comer said Monday that the House Oversight Committee will meet on May 16 to advance such a resolution.

“The House Oversight and Judiciary Committees issued lawful subpoenas to Attorney General Garland for the audio recordings of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Hur, yet he continues to defy our subpoenas,” Mr. Comer said in a statement.

“These audio recordings are important to our investigation of President Biden’s willful retention of classified documents and his fitness to be President of the United States,” he added. “There must be consequences for refusing to comply with lawful congressional subpoenas and we will move to hold Attorney General Garland in contempt of Congress.”

Samantha Flom and Jackson Richman contributed to this report.
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]