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Desperation at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.? The White House-DOJ ‘executive privilege’ dance

Special counsel Robert Hur, right, had referred to Joe Biden after interviewing him as an old man with a bad memory.
by WorldTribune Staff, May 17, 2024 Contract With Our Readers

The Biden White House on Thursday asserted executive privilege in refusing to turn over the full audio tapes of Joe Biden's interview with special counsel Robert Hur in which Hur refers to Biden as an “elderly man with a poor memory.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland told reporters on Thursday morning: “We have gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that the committees get responses to their legitimate requests, but this is not one. On the contrary, this is one that would harm our ability in the future to successfully pursue sensitive investigations.”

Soon after, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Garland in contempt for refusing to hand over the tapes.

The House Oversight Committee was also expected to hold Garland in contempt.

A contempt of Congress resolution against Garland would have to go to the full House for a vote. Even if it passed, it would be largely symbolic, as the Department of Justice isn't likely to prosecute its own leader. During the Obama administration, the Republican-led House held Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt in 2012, but prosecutors declined to bring charges.

Hur in his report described Biden as a “sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory,” which amplified ongoing questions about Biden's age and cognitive abilities as he runs for the White House again.

"Recordings of the interview would likely provide Republicans further fodder for their attacks on Biden’s mental acuity," the Wall Street Journal noted.

Garland and other DOJ officials have argued that releasing the audio recordings would undermine prosecutors’ ability to conduct similar high-profile investigations where the cooperation of White House officials is key.

A White House lawyer told lawmakers in a letter that Biden asserted the privilege at Garland’s request.

In a letter made public on May 16, Garland wrote to Biden: "The Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that the subpoenaed audio recordings fall within the scope of executive privilege and that you may assert executive privilege with respect to the recordings. I concur with this assessment."

“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,” White House counsel Edward Siskel said in letter addressed to House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan.

Comer in response said Biden and his advisors "fear releasing the audio recordings of his interview because it will again reaffirm to the American people" that his "mental state is in decline."

Hur’s report, released in February, concluded that Biden was sloppy in holding on to classified material related to his time as vice president. The special counsel said prosecutors couldn’t pursue a criminal case against Biden, in part because there were some innocent explanations for Biden’s actions—and because a jury might view him as a sympathetic defendant who was well-intentioned and forgetful.

Hur interviewed Biden in October. The transcript shows Biden engaging in frequent digressions, on topics big and small, from Obama-era policy disputes to an ace archery shot in Mongolia and his fondness for electric vehicles he tested as president.

The transcript also shows Biden discussing his son Beau’s death emotionally and at length. At one point, he described his son as dying around 2018. An aide corrected him that Beau had died in 2015, he acknowledged the mistake and described how the family tragedy weighed heavily on the decision to run for the presidency.

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