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Biden asserts executive privilege in fight over recording of special counsel interview

President Biden invoked executive privilege to deny House Republicans access to recordings of his interview with a special counsel investigating his handling of government records, Justice Department officials and counsel said Thursday. the White House.

The move is intended to protect Attorney General Merrick B. Garland from prosecution if House Republicans succeed in finding him in contempt for refusing to release audio of Mr. Biden’s conversations with special counsel Robert K. Hur, weeks after an almost complete transcript of the interview was made public.

The move is sure to anger former President Donald J. Trump and his allies, but it is consistent with the practice of his administration and that of his predecessor, President Barack Obama. The Justice Department invoked executive privilege in choosing not to bring charges against two of Mr. Garland’s predecessors when they were held in contempt: Eric H. Holder Jr., a Democrat, in 2012 and William P. Barr, a Republican, in 2020.

“The long-standing position of the executive branch held by administrations of both parties is that an official who claims the president’s executive privilege cannot be prosecuted for criminal contempt of Congress,” said Carlos F. Uriarte, deputy attorney general. responsible for legislative affairs. ” wrote in a letter to Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, and Rep. James R. Comer of Kentucky, who heads the Oversight Committee.

Mr. Uriarte urged committees to withdraw their contempt resolutions, citing House members’ decision to forgo contempt proceedings in 2008 when President George W. Bush asserted executive privilege after his vice president, Dick Cheney, has been subpoenaed.

“The absence of a legitimate need for the audio recordings lays bare your likely purpose: to cut them up, distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes,” White House counsel Edward N. Siskel wrote, in a letter to Mr. Jordan and Mr. Comer on Thursday, referencing Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure department officials when he was president.

“To demand such sensitive, constitutionally protected law enforcement documents from the executive branch because you want to manipulate them for potential political purposes is inappropriate,” he added.

Mr. Garland wrote in a letter to the president that Mr. Hur’s interviews with the president and his ghostwriter “are a matter of executive privilege.”

Handing them over “would raise an unacceptable risk” of undermining “similar high-profile criminal investigations – particularly investigations in which the voluntary cooperation of White House officials is extremely important,” he said.

The move came hours before the Judiciary and Oversight committees planned to hold sessions on Mr. Garland after he rejected their subpoenas for the records.

The contempt resolution is expected to be put to a vote by the full House. Approval is not certain, given Republicans’ slim majority and divisions within the party, congressional aides said.

Even if the measure were adopted, it would be little more than a symbolic gesture; the Biden administration would almost certainly decline to prosecute.

The move is part of a broader effort by Republican lawmakers to scrutinize Biden administration officials after failing to impeach Mr. Biden on behalf of Mr. Trump, who has been impeached twice and indicted four times .

Republicans are eager to release the recording, which could provide damaging evidence of Mr. Hur’s characterization of the president as an “elderly man with a bad memory” and provide valuable fodder for Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Their alternative — a contempt vote — aims to embarrass Mr. Garland by taking a swipe at the man Mr. Trump accuses of being responsible for a “witch hunt.”

In February, Mr. Hur, a former Justice Department official in the Trump administration, dropped a political bombshell in the middle of the 2024 campaign, releasing a nearly 400-page final report summarizing his investigation. The document is an excruciatingly detailed assessment of Mr. Biden’s memory lapses that overshadowed his conclusion: Mr. Biden, unlike Mr. Trump, should not face criminal charges.

The Republican argument for releasing the recording, laid out in the 12-page resolution considered Thursday, represents a mix of motivations and investigations.

Republicans argue that audio is necessary to resolve possible discrepancies between the transcript and the recording. Repeatedly, they say it would offer “unique and important information” that could help bring about changes in future special counsel investigations, or allow them to get to the bottom of his family’s business dealings, even if it doesn’t. was never part of the will of Mr. Hur’s investigation.

But most importantly, they suggest that reading Mr. Biden’s words is not as good as hearing them.

The transcripts “do not reflect important verbal context, such as tone or tenor, or nonverbal context, such as pauses or pace of delivery,” committee staff members wrote.

In the past, Mr. Garland and other department officials have shown a willingness to defuse conflicts by reaching compromises with the House. Not this time.

In a sharply worded letter sent to Mr. Jordan and Mr. Comer earlier this month, an aide to Mr. Garland argued that releasing the audio would set a dangerous precedent and give the legislature inappropriate influence over the law enforcement functions of the executive branch.

“It would be very frightening if the decision to cooperate with a law enforcement investigation required individuals to submit to a public investigation by politicians,” Mr. Uriarte wrote.

Representative Glenn F. Ivey, Democrat of Maryland, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, accused Mr. Jordan of abusing his power and jeopardizing future legislative oversight efforts.

“It’s purely political,” he said. “The only reason they want the recording is to try to use clips for campaign ads, or something like that, which obviously doesn’t meet the legislative purpose standard that the Supreme Court has set for congressional control.”

Charlie Wild reports contributed.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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