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House republicans vote to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The House of Representatives has voted to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress. This comes after a dispute over audio recordings of special counsel Robert Hur's interviews with President Biden about his handling of classified documents. House Speaker Mike Johnson says Congress has an oversight responsibility.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MIKE JOHNSON: We have a right to know if Robert Hur's recommendation against prosecuting President Biden was warranted.

SHAPIRO: Well NPR congressional correspondent Deirdre Walsh is following this, and she's on the Capitol. She's on Capitol Hill. Hey, Deirdre.

DEIRDRE WALSH, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: If they have the transcripts, why are Republicans holding Garland in contempt over the audio?

WALSH: Well, House Republicans say these audiotapes are relevant for their impeachment inquiry of President Biden. Special counsel Robert Hur finished his probe of the president's handling of classified documents and issued a report back in February. Hur found that Biden did mishandle some documents, but he didn't bring any charges. In that report, Hur said the president was a, quote, "sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory." House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan says they just can't rely on the transcripts from DOJ.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: The audio recording is the best evidence of the words that President Biden actually spoke.

SHAPIRO: And what are Democrats saying?

WALSH: Well, they all voted no against this contempt resolution, dismissed it as political. They're saying that the GOP is targeting the attorney general because their impeachment inquiry hasn't turned up any evidence that the president was guilty of any wrongdoing. The top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, said that Republicans are going after Garland as a way to save face.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRY NADLER: And the Republican leadership knows that if they don't come up with something to show for the millions of dollars they have spent, the MAGA political base may stay home next November.

WALSH: Democrats are also saying that Republicans could manipulate any audio tapes for political purposes, potentially for a campaign ad.

SHAPIRO: What's the attorney general saying?

WALSH: Well, Garland just released a written statement saying he's disappointed that the House has, quote, "turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon." He said the vote disregards the separation of powers and amounts - and the amount of information the Justice Department already gave the committees.

In terms of this contempt resolution, the next step is the House is expected to file a lawsuit in court in D.C., but the U.S. attorney there is not likely to prosecute Garland. The Justice Department says criminal contempt doesn't apply when an executive agency official doesn't respond to a subpoena when the White House claims executive privilege, which they did with these audio tapes. But, you know, this legal fight is just going to drag out for a while, so it's unlikely Congress will get to hear these audiotapes - or the public - before the election.

SHAPIRO: And where does that impeachment inquiry stand?

WALSH: Jordan told me yesterday they're finishing up their report soon, but House Republicans, as I said earlier, have not found any evidence that shows the president did anything improper. Even Republicans in the House admit they don't see - some Republicans admit they don't have a case yet that rises to the level of impeachment or even the votes to impeach Biden. House Republicans have made some criminal referrals to the Justice Department, and could make some additional ones.

But the timing of this vote is worth noting. Democrats are pointing out that former President Trump is visiting Washington tomorrow to meet with both Senate and House Republicans. And as we've seen, Trump has really railed against Garland and the Justice Department due to his own legal challenges.

SHAPIRO: All right. That's NPR's Deirdre Walsh. Thank you.

WALSH: Thanks, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.
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