House panels vote to hold Garland in contempt 

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Two House committees on Thursday advanced measures to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress in an effort to censure him for failing to turn over audio recordings of the president.

A last-minute move from President Biden to claim executive privilege over audio recordings from his interview with special counsel Robert Hur did not dissuade the GOP from proceeding, even as Garland said those asserting the privilege “cannot be prosecuted for criminal contempt of Congress.”

The House Judiciary Committee passed the measure in an 18-15 party line vote, while the House Oversight Committee did the same in a 24-20 vote hours later. The panel bumped their hearing to 8 p.m. so that its members could travel to New York to be by former President Trump’s side during his hush money trial.

Republicans already have the transcript of Hur’s conversation with Biden, but they argue the audio recordings will be more revealing, suggesting pauses could speak to Hur’s commentary about the president’s cognitive functions or show a hesitancy to ask questions.

To Democrats, the only rationale for seeking the tapes is so the GOP can use them in campaign commercials, arguing they are misusing power purely for political gain.

“Transcripts do not capture demeanor evidence,” Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) said at the top of the Judiciary hearing.

“Transcripts are often imperfect, especially to convey the timing of question and answer and disfluencies of a witness, or hesitations, among other things. All of that is demeanor evidence.”

The passage of the contempt resolution leaves it heading to the full House floor for consideration.

However, the move is largely symbolic, as it acts as a referral to the Justice Department, which must weigh whether charges are fitting.

That looked unlikely well before Biden asserted executive privilege over the audio files, as DOJ had already declined to share them, arguing the panels have no need for law enforcement files that are unrelated to their investigation.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) nodded to those Republicans at the New York trial in commenting on the decision to hold Garland in contempt.

“Republicans on this committee have moved from being the criminal defense firm for the president to being essentially an adjunct of the president’s media advertising firm,” he said.

“We’re holding the Attorney General of the United States in contempt. And for what? Because he won’t give video material for a campaign commercial to this committee on behalf of a president who is a criminal defendant in a hush money payment to a porn star case in New York, the first of many criminal trials that he will face.”

In the background of the effort to gain access to the tapes was Republicans’ assertion that they could be useful for their impeachment investigation and back up their allegations of influence peddling. They’ve argued in prior letters that Biden may have taken classified documents to aid in the writing of his memoir while suggesting the audio files could include evidence that he took actions to benefit his family.

Hur noted classified information was not referenced in Biden’s book and that personal entries from Biden’s diaries, which also referenced classified information and events, formed the basis for the memoir.

It’s also clear from the transcripts the discussion did not include items of relevance to the impeachment probe.

Nonetheless, GOP members asserted Biden could have kept the documents for personal gain.

“President Biden had strong motivations to do so and to ignore the rules for properly handling the classified information in his notebooks — in fact he had $8 million reasons to ignore the rules,” Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, referencing the sum of Biden’s book advance.

But Ranking Member Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) shot back at that assertion.

“There’s just no ‘there’ there. So, what do our Republican friends do when an investigation turns up short? Simply put, they engage in fantasy,” he said.

“The Chairman wants to make it seem like he uncovered some wrongdoing by the Attorney General. In reality, the Attorney General and DOJ have been fully responsive to this Committee in every way that might be material to their long-dead impeachment inquiry.”

The parties also lobbed insults back and forth over which of their leaders struggles with mental acuity.

While Republicans plucked phrases from Hur’s report critical of Biden’s memory, Democrats noted Trump has repeatedly fallen asleep in his own trial. They also played clips of Trump making a string of errors, like referring to the country of Argentina as if it were a person and another clip praising the fictional serial killer Hannibal Lector.

But they also volleyed over their colleagues’ trip to New York.

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) quipped that he was glad some of his GOP colleagues still made it to the hearing.

“I know that the Oversight Committee canceled a hearing that was supposed to happen right now on this matter so that they could be at the president’s trial. I know some members will miss this vote, because they want to be at the president’s trial,” he said.

“And I don’t think that anything could animate the phrase ‘do-nothing Congress’ more than missing votes and canceling hearings to go up and be a spectator at your cult leader’s trial.”

At least 10 GOP lawmakers attended the trial, many of them members of the House Freedom Caucus.

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) who missed the Judiciary vote to attend the trial, tweeting a photo of himself afterward in the background behind Trump, echoing his call to the far-right Proud Boys in pledging to “stand back and stand by.”

This story was initially published earlier Thursday.

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