Updates to our Terms of Use

We are updating our Terms of Use. Please carefully review the updated Terms before proceeding to our website.

Saturday, July 20, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

House approves Garland contempt resolution, rising above Democrats’ fury

The contempt vote, a response to the attorney general’s refusal to turn over audio recordings from an investigation into President Joe Biden, is unlikely to result in any serious consequences for the Justice Department official.

WASHINGTON (CN) — House Republicans on Wednesday pushed through a resolution to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress in yet another drastic attempt to hamstring the Biden administration.

But the move to punish Garland, which stems from his refusal to comply with a subpoena for audio tapes from special counsel Robert Hur’s interview with President Joe Biden, is unlikely to be more than a symbolic gesture.

The contempt resolution cleared the Republican-controlled House on a 216-207 party-line vote. According to rules governing contempt of Congress, the House will refer Garland to the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., who in turn can hand things over to a grand jury. However, it’s unclear whether the capital city’s federal prosecutor would seek criminal charges against the attorney general.

Republicans for months have seized on interviews between Biden and Hur detailed in Hur's February report on the president’s handling of classified documents. Based on his conversations with the president, Hur declined to recommend charges against Biden — reasoning that a jury would look at him as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

GOP lawmakers have claimed that Hur’s report casts aspersions on the president’s mental state and demanded that the Justice Department turn over transcripts and audio recordings of the special counsel’s interview with Biden.

But while the agency provided redacted transcripts of the conversation, it declined to hand over recordings. The White House went so far as to invoke executive privilege, blocking the audio files from congressional oversight.

Republicans have long contended that they won’t be satisfied simply reading about what was said between Hur and Biden. They have argued that there is certain important context that can only be acquired from audio recordings, such as pauses and tone of voice.

“The committees need the audio recordings to determine whether the Justice Department appropriately carried out justice by not prosecuting the president,” Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said on the House floor Wednesday afternoon.

Lawmakers are entitled to all the evidence collected by the special counsel, Jordan argued, not just transcripts.

Kentucky Representative James Comer, chair of the House Oversight Committee and a major player in Republicans’ impeachment inquiry into Biden, said Wednesday that Garland’s refusal to turn over audio from Hur’s interview represents “a clear pattern of obstruction by the DOJ to cover up President Biden’s wrongdoing.”

“The House of Representatives cannot serve as a necessary check on the presidency if the executive branch is free to ignore the House’s subpoenas,” Comer added.

Democrats did not mince words about the contempt resolution, which they framed as part of a long, fruitless effort by Republicans to prove Biden has committed an impeachable offense.

“The Judiciary Committee, under Republican control, has spent the last 18 months and $20 million taxpayer dollars in a desperate search to find something, anything, that they can use to damage President Biden and to protect Donald Trump,” said New York Representative Jerry Nadler, ranking member of the Judiciary Committee.

Nadler pointed out that the GOP had yet to present any conclusive evidence of wrongdoing by the president and accused his colleagues of embarking on a “single-minded quest to follow every right-wing conspiracy theory.”

Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin bashed Republicans for what he called a “madcap wild goose chase.”

“Do they think that the holy grail … evidence of a presidential high crime and misdemeanor is lurking in the pauses or background throat-clearings and sneezes on the audio tape?” he said. “Of course not. They know there’s not high crime or misdemeanor to be found.”

The White House, meanwhile, has contended that Republicans’ attacks on Garland are purely political.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

Subscribe to Closing Arguments

Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.

Loading...