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Merrick Garland found in contempt of Congress

The House held Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress on Wednesday for his refusal to turn over the audio recording of President Joe Biden’s classified documents interview with special counsel Robert Hur.

All Republicans but one voted for the resolution that holds Garland in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena. House GOP leaders have been persistent in their requests for the audio recording, while Garland and House Democrats have claimed the recording is unnecessary because the transcript is already public.

Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH) was the sole GOP “no” vote on the resolution.

After passing the full House, a criminal referral will now be made to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, which must then weigh whether to move forward with prosecution. The committee’s contempt resolution would likely not result in any criminal proceedings for Garland, as he heads the Justice Department.

Spokespeople for the DOJ and Garland himself have disputed the legitimacy of the committee’s efforts and warned that releasing audio would have a chilling effect on witnesses coming forward to law enforcement.

Whether the contempt resolution would even come to the floor on Wednesday was up in the air, as House Republican leadership worked to whip votes on the legislation. However, Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY) confirmed ahead of the vote that it would.

“It’s time for Merrick Garland to stop stonewalling and release the Biden tapes,” Stefanik said at the GOP’s weekly press conference.

The measure put vulnerable Republicans in Biden-won districts at a crossroads as to how they would vote on the resolution. With only a two-seat majority, the margins for passing the resolution were slim.

Rep. Marc Molinaro (R-NY), one of those vulnerable Republicans this election year, said that “whether one agrees with it or not,” Congress has the “responsibility” to demand accountability.

“That’s how it works,” Molinaro told reporters. “They’re just trying to run out the clock so there can be no transparency.”

All Democrats voted against the resolution. Several have blasted Republicans for politicizing the matter and wanting the audio recording for “Donald Trump’s campaign commercials” or using Biden’s stutter to “smear” him.

Hur’s interview with Biden was used as rationale not to seek charges against the president because he would “likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” Republicans have argued the recording itself is needed to assess Biden’s mental acuity and to determine if the transcript had been altered in any way.

Rules Committee ranking member Jim McGovern (D-MA) called the contempt resolution “garbage,” arguing it is a smokescreen to distract from similar matters on the other side of the aisle, such as Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan’s (R-OH) refusal to comply with a subpoena related to the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.

“Republicans seem to be OK when, you know, if Democrats are held to account by the legal system, but if a Republican is held to account, they cry, you know, ‘Sham, rigged system, undue influence by, you know, the administration,’” McGovern said. “I mean the hypocrisy is stunning.”

Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-MD) called the resolution “ridiculous,” arguing that the Justice Department has already complied with the subpoena by giving a transcript that is “verbatim to the tape.”

“It’s kind of ridiculous, too, that you got the chairman of the committee who never complied with the Jan. 6 subpoena to this day, and they’re giving contempt charges now,” Ivey said, referring to Jordan. “So, I think it’s sort of an abuse of the congressional contempt power, and I’m sorry to see it happen on this one.”

Jordan, who was subpoenaed but refused to appear before the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 about his conversations with former President Donald Trump, at the time called his subpoena “unprecedented and inappropriate,” not “fair-minded and objective.”

Shortly before the Judiciary Committee voted to bring the contempt resolution to the floor in May, the White House exercised executive privilege over the audio tape, a move that made Republicans reassert that the recording was critical to their inquiry.

“We think the privilege has already been waived,” Jordan told reporters Wednesday. “We think when they gave us the transcript, they’ve waived the privilege. Understand that there have already been times where the transcript that we’ve received from the White House doesn’t match up with what was actually said by the president of the United States.”

Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN) also pushed back against claims that obtaining the recording is unnecessary.

“Transcripts do not and cannot capture things like tone, inflection, pace, and pauses that fully convey a person’s message,” Emmer said. “The audio recordings are necessary to adequately evaluate Special Counsel Hur’s assessment about President Biden’s memory and to determine whether the DOJ is engaging in a two-tiered application of justice by refusing to indict Joe Biden.

“If the interview audio matches the transcript, why not release it?” Emmer added. “Why not comply with our subpoenas?”

Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT) dismissed Republicans’ reasoning on why they should receive the tape ahead of the vote, arguing that it is just “more of the same.”

“They couldn’t get Biden on impeachment because there’s nothing there,” Balint said. “They couldn’t score victory in the Hur hearing. This is just one more attempt at eroding confidence in our government.

“It’s enraging because every single time they do these things, it’s picking away at any confidence that the American people have in our government,” Balint added. “And that, it sickens me, honestly.”

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