Garland blasts ‘unfounded attacks’ on US Justice Dept

By Thomson Reuters May 16, 2024 | 8:05 AM

By Andrew Goudsward and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday criticized what he called “unfounded attacks” on the Justice Department by congressional Republicans as he rejected their request for audio recordings of a special counsel interview with President Joe Biden.

In a letter to the chairmen of the House of Representatives Judiciary and Oversight committees, the Justice Department said that the Biden administration was asserting executive privilege, a legal doctrine that shields certain executive branch records from disclosure, over the audio recordings of Biden’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur over his retention of classified records.

Garland criticized the series of political attacks House Republicans have launched at the DOJ and the justice system more broadly as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump faces multiple criminal prosecutions.

“There have been a series of unprecedented and frankly, unfounded attacks on the Justice Department,” Garland told reporters.

The letter also said that Biden was also asserting executive privilege over the audio recordings of Hur’s interview with his ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer.

The House Oversight Committee on Thursday is poised to take procedural steps toward setting up a vote to hold Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the audio recordings.

“While our cooperation with Congress has been extraordinary, we also have a responsibility to safeguard the confidentiality of law enforcement files where disclosure would jeopardize future investigations,” wrote Carlos Felipe Uriarte, an assistant attorney general.

“The Attorney General must draw a line that safeguards the department from improper political influence.”

Garland appointed Hur last year to investigate Biden over his retention of classified records dating back to his time serving as vice president under Barack Obama.

Hur ultimately declined to pursue criminal charges, noting that Biden had cooperated with the probe, in contrast to Trump, who stonewalled a similar inquiry, and Trump is now facing federal charges for retaining classified records.

Hur described Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” setting off a firestorm of criticism by Democrats.

The Justice Department has already turned over a variety of records requested in congressional subpoenas issued by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer in connection with the Hur investigation, including transcribed interviews.

(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward and Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Scott Malone and Chizu Nomiyama)