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DOJ: Garland won’t face charges after House contempt vote

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The Justice Department won’t prosecute Attorney General Merrick Garland after House Republicans held him in contempt for refusing to hand over audio of President Joe Biden’s interview with former special counsel Robert Hur.

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte wrote in a letter to Speaker Mike Johnson on Friday that the department determined that Garland’s responses to the two subpoenas seeking the audio “did not constitute a crime.”

“Accordingly the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General,” he added in the letter.

The DOJ’s decision is a predictable response to the fight between the administration and GOP investigators, who subpoenaed the audio as part of a sweeping impeachment inquiry into Biden.

Garland was widely not expected to face charges, particularly after Biden asserted executive privilege over the audio. The Justice Department, which did hand over the transcript, also argued releasing the audio would negatively impact cooperation in future investigations.

Spokespeople for Johnson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The House voted 216-207 on Wednesday to hold Garland in contempt with only one Republican — Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio) — voting against it.

But House Republicans have hinted they will sue for the audio, meaning the fight could be temporarily paused rather than actually over. The Justice Department is already in the middle of court fights with outside conservative groups and media organizations who are seeking the audio.

The Justice Department, in its letter, noted that it had a “longstanding position” to “not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide subpoenaed information” that fell under an assertion of executive privilege. Among the examples Uriarte pointed to was the DOJ’s refusal to prosecute then-Attorney General Bill Barr or then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross after the House held them in contempt.

But Republicans argued that when the Justice Department handed over the transcript, they also waived executive privilege over the audio — something the DOJ has contested. Republicans have folded Hur’s investigation into Biden’s mishandling of classified documents into their own sweeping impeachment inquiry, which has largely focused on the business deals of Biden’s family members.

Republicans have focused, in particular, on Hur’s assertion that Biden would be viewed by a jury in a trial as a “sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.”