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House Republicans are prepared to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for Biden’s audio

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans plan to move forward with retaining the attorney general next week Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for its refusal to turn over the unredacted audio of an interview conducted as part of the special counsel’s investigation into President Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents.

The House Judiciary Committee will meet on May 16 to hear contempt charges against the Cabinet official, according to a person familiar with the matter who was granted anonymity to discuss plans that have not yet been made public. The resolution would then go to the full House for a vote.

The contempt proceedings are just the latest flare-up in an increasingly tense relationship between Republicans and the Justice Department. House Republicans last month threatened to hold Garland in contempt for refusing to fully comply with a congressional subpoena issued as part of their investigation into special counsel Robert Hur’s decision not to charge the president with any crimes .

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Republicans — led by Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and James Comer of Kentucky — had ordered the department to turn over the audio of Hur’s interviews with Biden in early April. But the Justice Department turned over only some of the documents, with the exception of the audio interview with the president. They warned of the precedent that would be set for future investigations if the audio were provided.

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte, the department’s chief of congressional affairs, said in the letter to Jordan and Comer last month that the committees’ interest in these documents may not be “in the service of legitimate oversight or investigative functions, but rather for political purposes that should not play a role in the handling of law enforcement files.”

Comer rejected that reasoning, saying in response that the Biden administration “should not determine what Congress does and does not need for its oversight of the executive branch.”

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Contempt charges would require majority support in the committee, and then support from the full House, before a referral would be sent to the Justice Department. Should the House of Representatives find Garland in contempt, it is unlikely that the Justice Department – ​​which Garland oversees – will prosecute him.

The last time an attorney general was held in contempt was in 2012, when the Republican Party-controlled House voted to make then-Attorney General Eric Holder the first sitting Cabinet member to be prosecuted for contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents relating to the weapons operation known as Operation Fast and Furious.

The Justice Department took no action against Holder.

The special counsel in Biden’s case, Hur, spent a year investigating the president’s unlawful retention of classified documents from his time as a senator and as vice president. The result was a 345-page report that questioned Biden’s age and mental competency but recommended no criminal charges be filed against the 81-year-old. Hur said he had found insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute a case in court.

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In March, Hur stood by the assessment in his report in testimony before the Judiciary Committee, where he was questioned for more than four hours by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

But his defense did not satisfy Republicans, who insist there is a politically motivated double standard at the Justice Department, which is prosecuting former President Donald Trump over his handling of classified documents after he left the White House.

But there are major differences between the two probes. Biden’s team returned the documents after they were discovered, and the president cooperated with the investigation by voluntarily participating in an interview and agreeing to searches of his homes. Trump, on the other hand, is accused of enlisting the help of aides and lawyers to hide the documents from the government and of trying to have potentially incriminating evidence destroyed.

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