House GOP files suit to force Garland to turn over Biden-Hur interview audio

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The House Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit Monday to force Attorney General Merrick Garland to turn over audio tapes from President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur regarding his handling of classified documents.

It is the latest move from top Republicans in the House in their push to gain access to the tapes, following a vote to hold Garland in contempt of Congress earlier this month over not complying with their subpoena in the matter. The Justice Department subsequently declined to charge Garland with contempt.

The suit is also a way for Republicans to further put a spotlight on the 81-year-old president’s age and mental sharpness, a topic that dominated political discussion over the weekend in light of Biden’s weak performance in a presidential debate against former President Trump. In explaining his decision to not bring charges against Biden, Hur said a jury would likely perceive Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory” and pointed to issues with Biden’s memory in the interview.

Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), though, suggested that Biden’s memory issues is not the core reason for seeking the tapes, but rather that Republicans want to ensure that the transcript of the interview — which they already have — is accurate.

“We’re not trying to embarrass the president. We’re trying to get down to the facts,” Johnson said in a press conference on Friday. “So that being said, we’re going to be as aggressive as we can, use every tool in our arsenal to make sure that the evidence that the House is entitled to is turned over.”

Biden has claimed executive privilege over the tapes, which the Justice Department determined shields Garland from any consequences for failing to turn them over.

Republicans argue that Biden’s assertion of executive privilege over the tapes isn’t valid because he already turned over the transcript of the conversation.

“Any privilege that could conceivably apply to President Biden’s interview with the Special Counsel was waived when the Executive Branch released a transcript of that interview to the press and produced that transcript to the Committee,” the suit states.

A Justice Department spokesperson said they are “reviewing the lawsuit and will respond in court at the appropriate time.”

The suit also brings to court the GOP’s arguments that they need the tape to further their impeachment investigation, likely igniting further scrutiny of claims they’ve struggled to back.

“The scope of the inquiry includes whether President Biden has abused his office of public trust to enrich himself or his family, including in connection with his family’s business dealings with foreign parties,” Republicans wrote in the suit.

The transcript of the conversation makes clear none of the items the GOP said it wished to evaluate in earlier letters were discussed.

“Nothing in the interview transcripts the Department has already produced speaks to or supports the Committees’ speculation on this point, and nothing in the audio file of the same conversations would do so either. Nothing in Special Counsel Hur’s report or his testimony indicates any support for this speculation, either,” the DOJ wrote in an April letter to House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) rebuffing his demands for the tape. 

Some Republican members have expressed support for a much more dramatic strategy to get Garland to overturn the Biden-Hur tapes: Hold Garland in “inherent contempt” and direct the House Sergeant at Arms to detain Garland until he does so.

Rep. Anna Paulina Luna (R-Fla.) is leading the push to use inherent contempt, which has not been used in nearly 100 years. But while she had promised to force a vote on her resolution to hold Garland in inherent contempt, she declined to do so last week, citing GOP attendance issues and telling The Hill that she would introduce a new inherent contempt resolution that has the support of the Speaker. 

Luna on Friday introduced a new inherent contempt resolution that, rather than directing the Sergeant at Arms to take Garland into custody, would fine Garland $10,000 per day until he complies with the House GOP subpoena. 

Johnson has not yet asserted his support for any inherent contempt resolution.

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