House GOP strains to use Garland contempt vote for Biden impeachment probe

The GOP plan to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress seeks to string together two seemingly unrelated probes – special counsel Robert Hur’s review of President Biden’s handling of classified records and their own impeachment investigation.

The back-to-back contempt hearings slated for Thursday in the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees come after both sought the audio recording of Biden’s interview with Hur. The panels already have the transcript of that interview.

Each will review resolutions that accuse Garland both of having “hindered” their oversight of Hur as well as having “impeded the Committees’ impeachment inquiry.”

In doing so, Republicans are pushing forward a new claim for their Biden impeachment investigation: that the president intentionally kept classified documents to aid in the writing of his memoir, possibly concealing other evidence of aid to his family’s business ventures in the process.

“He had a motive, you know, an $8 million motive,” House Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told The Hill last week, nodding to Biden’s book advance when asked how the Hur investigation intertwined with his impeachment probe.

That conclusion clashes with Hur’s report, which, while highly critical of Biden, determined there was not enough evidence to support a claim that the president intentionally held onto the records found at his office and home.

Biden’s book, he wrote, is “not known to contain classified information.”

Republicans also argue they need the audio for a broader investigation into whether Biden’s family was involved in influence peddling. They say it may shed light on whether Biden took action to limit prosecution of his son, or whether he sought to limit the scope of questions asked of him.

The suggestions are far afield of Hur’s work, and the transcript of both day’s interviews makes clear these topics were not discussed. 

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, called the contempt resolution a “half-hearted coda” that tries to “blame Attorney General Merrick Garland for their own protracted comedy of errors.”

“The attorney general gave Republicans the information they asked for, and it’s delightfully absurd to suggest that listening to the president’s words instead of just reading them will suddenly reveal the mystery high crime and misdemeanor the Republicans have been unable to identify since 2023,” Raksin said in a statement to The Hill. 

“Will this hopeless scavenger hunt ever end? Perhaps the Republicans should play the Beatles’ White Album backwards and the impeachable offense will emerge!”

The Justice Department has refused to turn over the audio, suggesting Republicans are only seeking it for political purposes and that caving to their demands risks chilling their ability to secure future interviews.

But the department also offered a point-by-point rebuttal to the GOP.

“Nothing in the interview transcripts the department has already produced speaks to or supports the committees’ speculation on this point, and nothing in the audio file of the same conversations would do so either,” Carlos Uriarte, head of DOJ’s office of legislative affairs, wrote to the two chairmen repeatedly in an 11-page letter last month.

Republicans’ linking of Hur’s investigation with their own follows the arrest of a former FBI informant who accused Biden of accepting a bribe, an allegation underlying the GOP probe. The informant has since been charged in relation with fabricating the claim. 

“As a part of the committees’ inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist to draft articles of impeachment against President Biden, the committees have sought information regarding President Biden’s mishandling of classified information,” the House Judiciary Committee wrote in its contempt report.

“The committees have sought this information to determine whether President Biden willfully retained classified information and documents related to, among other places, Ukraine to assist his family’s business dealings or to enrich his family.

The appendix cataloging the documents found at Biden’s home and office list just two documents related to Ukraine, where the president’s son once sat on the board of an energy company.

In one, a document on talking points for a call with Ukraine’s then-prime minister, Biden directs his staff to save the transcript of their conversation. On the call itself, Hur writes, “the two exchanged pleasantries and the Prime Minister heaped praise upon Mr. Biden for his December 9, 2015 speech to Ukraine’s parliament. They did not engage in a substantive policy discussion.”

Republicans have asserted that Biden’s action “raises questions about whether he purposefully took them when he left office in order to benefit his family.”

Uriarte’s letter last month notes that despite interest from Republicans in reviewing the Ukraine documents, Comer “has not yet taken us up on our offer, which we made over two months ago. Nonetheless, he has been publicly speculating (inaccurately) about their contents.”

Hur’s report also casts doubt on GOP claims that Biden was motivated to keep classified records for his book.

A note Biden wrote to himself lists “profit – retirement” as a reason for writing the book.

Hur suggests that Biden’s interest in the Afghanistan-related documents was more about his opposition to the troop surge and wanting to show “his critics were wrong.”

Hur wrote that the documents “played no role” in Biden’s book “Promise Me, Dad,” noting that it’s primarily about Biden grappling with the illness and death of his son.

“There is no reason to believe Mr. Biden intended to discuss the 2009 Afghanistan troop debate in his book,” Hur determined.

Hur noted that one of the most significant resources for Biden’s books were his personal notebooks, something the president saw as akin to a diary that past presidents have been permitted to keep.

Biden did have strong motivations to keep the notebooks, Hur said, noting the president consulted them “liberally” in crafting his book. While they reference classified information and discussions and may have required storage at a secure facility, they were also personal.

“Mr. Biden’s notebooks included gut-wrenching passages about his son’s death and other highly personal material,” Hur wrote.

“He believed he did not need to send what he considered to be his personal diary to be stored at a government facility.” 

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