Saturday, July 20, 2024

Republicans fail to hold AG Merrick Garland in contempt and fine him over Biden audiotapes

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives on Thursday rejected a resolution to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in “inherent contempt” for failing to turn over the audiotapes of President Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur.

The “privileged” resolution, written by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, a Florida Republican and Donald Trump ally, had called for the House to impose a $10,000 daily fine on Garland for each day he fails to hand over the audiotapes.

The inherent contempt process has in the past involved the House sergeant-at-arms taking a person into custody and bringing them to be tried on the House floor, but it hasn’t been used that way in more than a century in the House. Luna’s resolution only directed Speaker Mike Johnson, R-La., to impose the daily fine, though it was unclear how exactly he would enforce it and the matter could have ended up in court.

It did not call for Garland to be taken into custody.

After the failed vote, Luna took to social media and vowed to bring it to the floor again, saying her resolution only failed “due to some Republican absences.”

“I have refiled the resolution and will be calling it up again in a couple of weeks when Congress is back in session and Members return,” Luna said on X. “Attorney General Merrick Garland will pay and be held accountable for trying to undermine our institutions. No one is above the law.”

Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla.,
Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, R-Fla., at a news conference in the U.S. Capitol on June 26.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

The vote was 204-210. Four Republicans — Reps. John Duarte and Tom McClintock, both of California; and Dave Joyce and Mike Turner, both of Ohio — voted with all Democrats in rejecting the resolution. Another 12 Republicans were absent.

Joyce, a former prosecutor, noted that the executive privilege call was up to Biden, not Garland, and that DOJ had already turned over transcripts of the Biden interview.

“Privilege lies with the president. The attorney general gave transcripts. When they requested the tapes, the president said the tapes he’s exercising privilege over,” Joyce, a former prosecutor, said in an interview. “Garland’s between a rock and a hard spot. To get where you need to go is through the courts.”

Republicans have sought audio of Biden’s interview with Hur, who was appointed by Garland to lead the investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents from his days in the Senate and as vice president. While he said Biden’s practices “present serious risks to national security,” Hur did not bring charges against the president, in part, because Biden could portray himself as an “elderly man with a poor memory” who would be sympathetic to a jury.

The Justice Department in March released redacted written transcripts of the president’s five-hour interview with Hur on Oct. 8 and 9, 2023. But Luna and other Republicans say they want to listen to the Biden audio themselves to ensure that the transcripts were not manipulated.

The White House has claimed executive privilege in refusing to hand over the audiotapes, and Biden’s Democratic allies on Capitol Hill have said the written transcripts are sufficient.

Asked to respond to the vote, a Justice Department spokesperson said that Garland was “leading a cross border crime forum and is unavailable for comment.”

Thursday’s inherent contempt vote comes one month after the House voted 216-207 to hold Garland in contempt of Congress over the audiotapes, but DOJ said it would decline to prosecute the leader of the law enforcement agency.

On Wednesday night, Democrats first tried to “table” or kill Luna’s resolution but that effort failed. Democrats then made a motion to refer the resolution to the Rules Committee to delay the process, but that, too, failed, leading to the full House vote Thursday.

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