Biden asserts executive privilege over audio of interview with special counsel Hur

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(WASHINGTON) — The Justice Department on Thursday informed House Republicans that President Joe Biden has formally asserted executive privilege over the audio of his interview with special counsel Robert Hur, a move that DOJ says effectively shields Attorney General Merrick Garland from any criminal exposure as the Republican lawmakers move toward trying to hold him in contempt of Congress.

Citing what it describes as as “extraordinary” cooperation and “good faith” efforts to provide Republicans will all relevant materials from Hur’s investigation into President Biden’s handling of classified documents while out of office, the department argued disclosing the audio would set an untenable precedent where high-profile figures under criminal scrutiny would second-guess cooperating with the government in the future.

“The Attorney General must draw a line that safeguards the Department from improper political influence and protects our principles, our law enforcement work, and the people who carry out that work independently, without fear or favor,” Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte wrote in the letter. “The Committees seek to hold the Attorney General in contempt not for failing in his duties, but for upholding them.”

Uriarte further details in his letter how the department previously made available the transcript of Biden’s interview with Hur, and argues Republicans have failed to provide any reason that the audio would add further value to their efforts to investigate Biden.

In explaining the move to have Biden formally assert executive privilege over the remaining materials sought by Republicans — which includes the audio of the interview with Biden’s ghostwriter Mark Zwonitzer — Uriarte points to longstanding DOJ policy “held by administrations of both parties that an official who asserts the President’s claim of executive privilege cannot be prosecuted for criminal contempt of Congress.”

“With the information you now have, the Committees ought not to proceed with contempt and should instead avoid unnecessary and unwarranted conflict,” Uriarte said.

The Republican-led House Judiciary Committee planned to meet Thursday morning to move forward on recommending contempt proceedings against Garland.

The Justice Department had previously provided a transcript of Biden’s interview to House Republicans.

Hur’s yearlong probe into Biden’s handling of classified documents ended with no criminal charges being recommended because the evidence wasn’t sufficient to support a conviction. However, the 388-page report Hur released a political firestorm as the special counsel described Biden as someone who could appeal to a jury as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”

White House Counsel Ed Siskel also wrote a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and House Oversight Chairman James Comer explaining the decision to assert executive privilege over the recordings.

In it, Siskel argued Biden has a responsibility to protect the executive branch’s law enforcement agencies from “undue partisan interference.”

“The absence of a legitimate need for the audio recordings lays bare your likely goal—to chop them up, distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes,” Siskel wrote.

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