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US--Biden-Classified Documents         05/17 06:12

   Two House committees moved ahead Thursday with contempt charges against 
Attorney General Merrick Garland for refusing to turn over audio from President 
Joe Biden's interview with a special counsel, advancing the matter after the 
White House's decision to block the release of the recording earlier in the day.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two House committees moved ahead Thursday with contempt 
charges against Attorney General Merrick Garland for refusing to turn over 
audio from President Joe Biden's interview with a special counsel, advancing 
the matter after the White House's decision to block the release of the 
recording earlier in the day.

   In back-to-back hearings that nearly spilled into early Friday, the House 
Judiciary and Oversight and Accountability committees voted along party lines 
to advance an effort to hold Garland in contempt of Congress for not turning 
over the records. But the timing of any action by the full House, and the 
willingness of the U.S. attorney's office to act on the referral, remained 
uncertain.

   "The department has a legal obligation to turn over the requested materials 
pursuant to the subpoena," Rep. Jim Jordan, the GOP chairman of the Judiciary 
Committee, said during the hearing. "Attorney General Garland's willful refusal 
to comply with our subpoena constitutes contempt of Congress."

   The rapid sequence of events Thursday further inflamed tensions between 
House Republicans and the Justice Department, setting the stage for another 
round of bitter fighting between the two branches of government that seemed 
nearly certain to spill over into court.

   If House Republicans' efforts against Garland are successful, he will become 
the third attorney general to be held in contempt of Congress. The White House 
slammed Republicans in a letter earlier Thursday, dismissing their efforts to 
obtain the audio as purely political.

   "The absence of a legitimate need for the audio recordings lays bare your 
likely goal -- to chop them up, distort them, and use them for partisan 
political purposes," White House counsel Ed Siskel wrote in a scathing letter 
to House Republicans ahead of scheduled votes by the two House committees to 
refer Garland to the Justice Department for the contempt charges.

   "Demanding such sensitive and constitutionally-protected law enforcement 
materials from the Executive Branch because you want to manipulate them for 
potential political gain is inappropriate," Siskel added.

   Garland separately advised Biden in a letter made public Thursday that the 
audio falls within the scope of executive privilege, which protects a 
president's ability to obtain candid counsel from his advisers without fear of 
immediate public disclosure and to protect confidential communications relating 
to official responsibilities.

   The attorney general told reporters that the Justice Department has gone to 
extraordinary lengths to provide information to the committees about special 
counsel Robert Hur's investigation, including a transcript of Biden's interview 
with Hur. But, Garland said, releasing the audio could jeopardize future 
sensitive and high-profile investigations. Officials have suggested handing 
over the tape could make future witnesses concerned about cooperating with 
investigators.

   "There have been a series of unprecedented and frankly unfounded attacks on 
the Justice Department," Garland said. "This request, this effort to use 
contempt as a method of obtaining our sensitive law enforcement files is just 
most recent."

   The Justice Department warned Congress that a contempt effort would create 
"unnecessary and unwarranted conflict," with Assistant Attorney General Carlos 
Uriarte saying, "It is the longstanding position of the executive branch held 
by administrations of both parties that an official who asserts the president's 
claim of executive privilege cannot be held in contempt of Congress."

   Siskel's letter to lawmakers comes after the uproar from Biden's aides and 
allies over Hur's comments about Biden's age and mental acuity, and it 
highlights concerns in a difficult election year over how potentially 
embarrassing moments from the lengthy interview could be exacerbated by the 
release, or selective release, of the audio.

   Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson slammed the White House's move, 
accusing Biden of suppressing the tape because he's afraid to have voters hear 
it during an election year.

   "The American people will not be able to hear why prosecutors felt the 
President of the United States was, in Special Counsel Robert Hur's own words, 
an 'elderly man with a poor memory,' and thus shouldn't be charged," Johnson 
said the during a press conference on the House steps.

   House Democrats defended Biden's rationale during the back-to-back hearings 
on Thursday, citing the massive trove of documents and witnesses who have been 
made available to Republicans as part of their more than yearlong probe into 
Biden and his family.

   Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said on 
Thursday that Republicans want to make it seem like they've uncovered 
wrongdoing by the Justice Department.

   "In reality, the Attorney General and DOJ have been fully responsive to this 
committee in every way that might be material to their long dead impeachment 
inquiry," the New York lawmaker said. "Sometimes, they have been too 
responsive, in my opinion, given the obvious bad faith of the MAGA majority."

   The contempt effort is seen by Democrats as a last-ditch effort to keep 
Republicans' impeachment inquiry into Biden alive, despite a series of setbacks 
in recent months and flailing support for articles of impeachment within the 
GOP conference.

   A transcript of the Hur interview showed Biden struggling to recall some 
dates and occasionally confusing some details -- something longtime aides say 
he's done for years in both public and private -- but otherwise showing deep 
recall in other areas. Biden and his aides are particularly sensitive to 
questions about his age. At 81, he's the oldest-ever president, and he's 
seeking another four-year term.

   Hur, a former senior official in the Trump administration Justice 
Department, was appointed as a special counsel in January 2023 following the 
discovery of classified documents in multiple locations tied to Biden.

   Hur's report said many of the documents recovered at the Penn Biden Center 
in Washington, in parts of Biden's Delaware home, and in his Senate papers at 
the University of Delaware were retained by "mistake."

   However, investigators did find evidence of willful retention and disclosure 
related to a subset of records found in Biden's Wilmington, Delaware, house, 
including in a garage, an office and a basement den.

   The files pertain to a troop surge in Afghanistan during the Obama 
administration that Biden had vigorously opposed. Biden kept records that 
documented his position, including a classified letter to Obama during the 2009 
Thanksgiving holiday. Some of that information was shared with a ghostwriter 
with whom he published memoirs in 2007 and 2017.

 
 
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