White House blocks Republican demands for audio of Biden’s special council interview

President Joe Biden on Thursday moved to block Republicans in the US House of Representatives from obtaining audio recordings of his interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur over his retention of classified records.

In a letter to the chairmen of the House of Representatives Judiciary and Oversight committees, the Justice Department said Biden had asserted executive privilege, a legal doctrine that shields certain executive branch records from disclosure.

The letter said that Biden was also asserting executive privilege over the audio recordings of Hur’s interview with his ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer.

It comes as the House Oversight and Accountability Committee and the Judiciary Committee are each expected to hold a hearing to recommend that the full House refer Attorney General Merrick Garland to the Justice Department for the contempt charges over the department’s refusal to hand over the audio.

Attorney General Merrick Garland. House Republicans are set to advance contempt of Congress charges against Garland for his refusal to turn over unredacted audio of a special counsel interview with President Joe Biden. Photo: AP

Garland advised Biden in a letter on Thursday that the audio falls within the scope of executive privilege. Garland told the Democratic president that the “committee’s needs are plainly insufficient to outweigh the deleterious effects that the production of the recordings would have on the integrity and effectiveness of similar law enforcement investigations in the future.”

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte urged lawmakers not to proceed with the contempt effort to avoid “unnecessary and unwarranted conflict.”

“While our cooperation with Congress has been extraordinary, we also have a responsibility to safeguard the confidentiality of law enforcement files where disclosure would jeopardise future investigations,” wrote Uriarte.

“The Attorney General must draw a line that safeguards the department from improper political influence.”

US Attorney Robert Hur was appointed by Garland to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents. Photo: Reuters

Garland appointed Hur last year to investigate Biden over his retention of classified records dating back to his time-serving as vice-president under Barack Obama.

Hur ultimately declined to pursue criminal charges, noting that Biden had cooperated with the probe, in contrast to former Republican President Donald Trump, who stonewalled a similar inquiry and his now facing federal charges for retaining classified records.

Hur described Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” setting off a firestorm of criticism by Democrats.

The Justice Department has already turned over a variety of records requested in congressional subpoenas issued by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer in connection with the Hur investigation, including transcribed interviews.

Photograph of a transcript of a recorded interview between Special Counsel Robert Hur and President Joe Biden. Photo: AP

White House Counsel Ed Siskel wrote in a separate, scathing letter to Congress on Thursday that lawmakers’ effort to obtain the recording was absent any legitimate purpose and lays bare their likely goal – “to chop them up, distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes.”

The White House memo is a tacit admission that there are moments from the interview it fears portray Biden in a negative light in an election year – and that could be exacerbated by the release, or selective release, of the audio.

The transcript of the Hur interview showed Biden struggling to recall some dates and occasionally confusing some details – something long-time aides says he’s done for years in both public and private – but otherwise showing deep recall in other areas. Biden and his aides are particularly sensitive to questions about his age. At 81, he’s the oldest ever president, and he’s seeking another four year term.



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