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House Speaker Pledges Legal Action to Obtain Biden Interview Audio

 June 16, 2024

House Speaker Mike Johnson has declared that the House will pursue legal remedies to enforce a subpoena against Attorney General Merrick Garland for access to an audio recording of President Joe Biden's special counsel interview.

This decision follows the Department of Justice's refusal to prosecute Garland for contempt of Congress, citing executive privilege claimed by President Biden as the reason for not releasing the audio, as the Associated Press reports.

House Aims to Enforce Subpoena in Court

Johnson announced the House's strategy during a press conference, stating that lawmakers will go to court to demand compliance with the subpoena issued to Garland. This step is seen as necessary after the DOJ declined to charge Garland with contempt of Congress.

The statement comes amid heightened tensions between the legislative and executive branches over the issue of compliance with congressional subpoenas. The subpoena in question seeks the audio from President Biden's interview with special counsel Robert Hur, related to an investigation into the mishandling of classified documents.

"It is sadly predictable that the Biden Administration’s Justice Department will not prosecute Garland for defying congressional subpoenas even though the department aggressively prosecuted Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro for the same thing," Johnson remarked, emphasizing his disapproval of the DOJ’s actions.

Executive Privilege and DOJ's Stance

The contention arose after President Biden invoked executive privilege to prevent the release of the audio recording. This legal maneuver has been accepted by various administrations to protect presidential communications.

However, this decision has not sat well with House Republicans, who voted on Wednesday to hold Garland in contempt for his refusal to provide the requested material. This action highlights the ongoing dispute over the limitations and uses of executive privilege.

The DOJ, referencing its historical stance, stood firm in its decision not to prosecute Garland. Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte reiterated, "The department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General."

Historical Precedents and DOJ's Policy

Uriarte also pointed to the DOJ’s long-standing policy of not prosecuting officials who do not comply with subpoenas when a president claims executive privilege. This same policy had previously protected figures like former AG Bill Barr, Mark Meadows, and Eric Holder under similar situations.

Despite these precedents, the refusal to prosecute Garland has sparked significant backlash among Republicans, notably when contrasted with the prosecution of Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress related to the January 6th committee.

A spokesperson for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) criticized the perceived inconsistency, saying, "The rule of law for thee, but not for me."

Details of the Controversial Subpoena

The Republican-led subpoena that initiated this conflict sought the audio of special counsel Hur's interviews with President Biden. While the DOJ has provided some records, the audio recording remains withheld, leading to allegations of political suppression from the White House.

White House Counsel Ed Siskel accused Republicans of seeking the audio with the intention to "chop them up" and distort the recordings to politically attack the president, adding another layer to the political friction between the parties.

Furthermore, the tension over subpoena compliance has been exacerbated by broader Republican frustration concerning the DOJ's decision not to prosecute President Biden over his handling of classified documents. Hur’s report found insufficient evidence to pursue charges against Biden, citing his cooperation and perceived memory issues.

Republican Push for Transparency

As anger brews among Republicans, they continue to press for transparency and further investigative actions concerning the Biden administration's conduct. This ongoing legal effort aims to challenge the boundaries of executive privilege and enhance legislative power in overseeing executive operations.

The special counsel's report on Biden’s handling of classified materials has offered little solace to Republicans, who accuse the current administration of bias and selective enforcement of laws.

Next Steps and Court Action

The House's decision to seek court enforcement of the subpoena signifies a critical next step in this ongoing legal and political battle. The outcome of their pursuit could have broad implications for future interbranch conflicts and the scope of executive privilege.

In conclusion, Speaker Mike Johnson’s announcement marks a significant escalation in the Republicans' effort to obtain President Biden’s special counsel interview audio. The conflict underscores concerns over executive authority, legislative power, and the application of the rule of law.