Justice Department Blasts GOP Effort To Hold Attorney General Garland In Contempt Over Biden Audio

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department on Monday blasted Republicans' effort to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt over his refusal to turn over unredacted materials related to the special counsel probe into President Joe Biden's handling of classified documents.

In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the Justice Department rejected the demand from House Republicans that the agency turn over the full audio of Special Counsel Robert Hur's hourslong interviews with Biden and his ghostwriter. Republicans had given the Justice Department until Monday to provide the audio.

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte, the Justice Department's head of congressional affairs, said in the letter to Reps. James Comer and Jim Jordan that despite GOP claims to the contrary, the department has complied with each of the four elements of the subpoena that House Republicans sent in February.

"The Committees' reaction is difficult to explain in terms of any lack of information or frustration of any informational or investigative imperative, given the Department's actual conduct," Uriarte wrote. "We are therefore concerned that the Committees are disappointed not because you didn't receive information, but because you did."

He added, "We urge the Committees to avoid conflict rather than seek it."

The pushback from the department and the seeming unwillingness to provide the audio could trigger a legal battle between the White House and the GOP chairmen leading the contempt effort on Capitol Hill, potentially setting up a scenario where Biden would have to exert executive privilege to halt the release of the audio recording to Congress.

The maneuvering could also delay the release of any audio until after the November election.

Comer responded to the letter late Monday, saying the Biden administration "does not get to determine what Congress needs and does not need for its oversight of the executive branch." The Kentucky Republican pledged to continue fighting to obtain the records requested for their investigation.

Comer added, "We will respond to the Justice Department soon."

The exchange is just the latest flashpoint between Republicans investigating Biden and the Justice Department tasked with overseeing a myriad of politically fraught federal probes, including one into the president's son, Hunter Biden.

Hur spent a year investigating the improper retention of classified documents by Biden, from his time as a senator and as vice president. The result was a 345-page report that questioned Biden's age and mental competence but recommended no criminal charges for the 81-year-old president, finding insufficient evidence to make a case stand up in court.

Last month, Hur stood by the assessment made in his report in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, where he was grilled for more than four hours by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

"What I wrote is what I believe the evidence shows, and what I expect jurors would perceive and believe," Hur told lawmakers. "I did not sanitize my explanation. Nor did I disparage the president unfairly."

If GOP lawmakers follow through with their threat to hold Garland in contempt, it would require majority support in committee and then the support of the full House before a referral would be sent to the Justice Department. It is unlikely that the department that Garland heads would take up a referral to investigate the Cabinet official.

The last time such an effort was successful was in 2012 when a Republican-controlled House voted to make then-Attorney General Eric Holder the first sitting Cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents in the gun-running operation known as Operation Fast and Furious. At the time, Republicans cited the Justice Department's failure to turn over, without any preconditions, documents related to the risky operation. The Justice Department took no action to prosecute the attorney general.