- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The House voted along party lines to hold President Biden’s attorney general in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over audio tapes of a memory-challenged Mr. Biden answering questions about his illegal stash of classified documents.

The GOP-led House had initially wavered about holding Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt amid pushback by Republican moderates running for reelection in districts Mr. Biden won in 2020.

All but one Republican lawmaker ultimately voted to rebuke Mr. Garland for blocking the release of audio tapes, which Republicans say are needed to complete their impeachment inquiry into Mr. Biden.

“Congress has a constitutional duty to perform oversight which is what we’re doing,” Majority Leader Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, said. “We’re in the middle of an impeachment inquiry, which has been voted on by the House already. And now we need to get the facts.”

The contempt resolution, which passed 216-207, will be referred to Mr. Garland’s Justice Department, which is all but certain to ignore it.

The contempt resolution also authorized lawmakers to sue in federal court for the release of the audio, a process that could take months or longer.

Mr. Biden is under investigation by House lawmakers for corruption related to his involvement in his family’s business deals.

Separately, Mr. Biden was interviewed by Special Counsel Robert K. Hur last Oct. 8 and 9 as part of an investigation of the president’s stash of classified documents taken during his time in the Senate and the vice presidency.

Republicans say the transcript of the interview released by the Justice Department is not enough, noting that it includes redaction and unspecified changes.

Lawmakers say the audio tapes would reveal “important verbal context, such as tone or tenor, or nonverbal context, such as pauses or pace of delivery.”

Mr. Biden asserted executive privilege over the tapes on May 16.

In rebuffing lawmakers, Justice Department officials said Congress has not provided “a legitimate congressional need” for the audio recordings and accused the GOP of seeking the tapes for political purposes.

The battle over the audio recordings comes amid questions and concerns about the 81-year-old president’s mental and physical fitness for a second term.

Boxes of classified documents were discovered in November 2022 at Mr. Biden’s former Washington think tank and in the garage of his home in Delaware. Their existence was revealed publicly in January 2023.

The news of Mr. Biden’s classified documents hoard broke several months after Mr. Garland ordered an FBI raid of former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home where he stored classified documents after his exit from the White House.

In a 345-page report issued in February, Mr. Hur, who has since resigned from the Justice Department, said he decided not to prosecute Mr. Biden despite his mishandling of classified documents. The president, he wrote, would be difficult to convict because he came across as “a sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.”

Mr. Trump, who is leading Mr. Biden in most presidential election polls, did not escape prosecution.

Special Counsel Jack Smith charged him with 40 counts related to his classified documents, including unlawful retention of sensitive national defense information.

“What we do know is one former president is being charged, Joe Biden is not being charged and we think we are entitled, actually we know we are entitled to all the evidence and the best evidence,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, said. “Transcripts alone are not sufficient evidence of the state of the president’s memory. Especially since the executive branch has a history of changing transcripts.”

Democrats urged the GOP to fight for the documents in court.

“The president asserted executive privilege in this matter,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said. “Maybe that was proper. Maybe not. But the way to contest executive privilege is not by a contempt resolution. It’s by going to court and letting the court decide whether the executive privilege is warranted or not.”

• Susan Ferrechio can be reached at sferrechio@washingtontimes.com.

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