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DOJ Opts Not To Prosecute AG Garland Following House Contempt Vote

 June 16, 2024

The Department of Justice has declined to prosecute Attorney General Merrick Garland following a contempt vote by the House of Representatives.

The DOJ's decision comes after President Joe Biden directed Garland to withhold certain materials requested by the House, invoking executive privilege, with the subsequent refusal prompting the aforementioned contempt vote, as Breitbart reports.

In a significant political development, the lower chamber voted this Wednesday, with a narrow margin of 216 to 207, to hold Garland in contempt of Congress. The vote was a response to the AG's non-compliance with congressional subpoenas demanding various documents.

These subpoenas, issued by the House Oversight and Accountability Committee along with the House Judiciary Committee in February, were seeking details from former special counsel Robert Hur's investigation into President Biden's alleged mishandling of classified information.

The documents in question included transcripts, notes, and both video and audio files, which were deemed essential for the congressional inquiry.

DOJ's Stance on Executive Privilege

Despite the House's demands, President Biden asserted executive privilege and instructed Garland not to release the subpoenaed materials. This directive was crucial in the DOJ's decision not to prosecute Garland, as outlined in a statement from the agency.

"The President's directive was issued after the Department produced materials responsive to all four requests in the Committee’s subpoenas," explained Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte.

According to the DOJ, this was in keeping with a "longstanding position of the Department that we will not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide subpoenaed information subject to a presidential assertion of executive privilege," as stated in their public release.

Historical Precedents and Current Decisions

The DOJ’s letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson further detailed its belief that the decision aligns with previous actions in which executive privilege was cited. Notably, similar circumstances were seen in 2019 when then-Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross were also not prosecuted following contempt of Congress charges.

The letter emphasized that Garland's responses to the subpoenas did not constitute a criminal act, thereby negating the need for a grand jury or further prosecutorial action against the attorney general.

Comparative Analysis of Legal Actions

Interestingly, the case contrasts with that of Steve Bannon, who was prosecuted for defying a congressional subpoena in relation to the investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021 unrest.

Bannon's defiance led to a conviction in 2022, with a subsequent prison sentence that was upheld by an appeals court in May.

Hur, appointed to investigate Biden's handling of classified data, concluded his investigation in February. Despite finding questionable practices, Hur decided against prosecution, citing factors that included the president’s age and memory issues.

This conclusion, however, did not halt congressional efforts to probe deeper into the matter, leading to contentious votes and legal interpretations surrounding executive privilege.

Broad Implications of DOJ's Decision

The DOJ’s actions have sparked a broad debate on the boundaries of executive privilege and its implications on transparency and accountability in government.

With the DOJ standing firm on its policy, the decision not to prosecute Garland may set a precedent affecting future interactions between the legislative and executive branches of government.

This event underscores the ongoing tensions and the complex balance of power within the U.S. government, reflecting on both legal standards and political strategies.

Summary and Outlook

To conclude, the DOJ's refusal to prosecute Attorney General Merrick Garland marks a significant moment in the dynamics of Congressional oversight and executive privilege. While it aligns with previous Department policies, it also highlights the continuing political and legal challenges in managing classified information and adhering to subpoena compliance.

The case presents a unique scenario where legal precedent, executive authority, and Congressional oversight intersect, with potential long-term effects on governance and public perception of justice and accountability.