White House blocks release of Biden’s special counsel interview audio, says GOP is being political

Biden
President Joe Biden speaks at a memorial service to honor law enforcement officers who’ve lost their lives in the past year, during National Police Week ceremonies at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 15, 2024.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

By ALANNA DURKIN RICHER and COLLEEN LONG Associated Press

President Joe Biden has asserted executive privilege over audio of his interview with special counsel Robert Hur that’s at the center a Republican effort to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress, the Justice Department told lawmakers on Thursday.

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

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.”

Biden
FILE – Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during the 36th Annual Candlelight Vigil to honor the law enforcement officers who lost their lives in 2023, in Washington, on May 13, 2024. 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.AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File

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

“It is the longstanding position of the executive branch held by administrations of both parties that an official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege cannot be held in contempt of Congress,” Uriarte wrote.

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 letter 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.

Biden
President Joe Biden, right, sitting next to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, left, speaks at the beginning of his meeting with the Combatant Commanders in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, May 15, 2024, before hosting them for a dinner.AP Photo/Susan Walsh

The transcript of the Hur interview showed Biden struggling to recall some dates and occasionally confusing some details — something longtime 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.

Hur found some evidence that Biden had willfully retained classified information and disclosed it to a ghostwriter but concluded that it was insufficient for criminal charges.