The House GOP’s latest bid to make Merrick Garland a villain


WASHINGTON, DC – JUNE 04: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill on June 04, 2024 in Washington, DC. Facing a contempt vote in the House, Garland pushed back against false accusation that the Justice Department is behind the prosecution and subsequent conviction of former U.S. President Donald Trump in New York, and that falsehoods and “conspiracy theories” are harming the rule of law. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

House Republicans, keen to keep up a steady stream of criticism about the Biden administration as the 2024 campaign kicks into high gear, are now going after Attorney General Merrick Garland. 

On Wednesday, the House is expected to vote to hold Garland in contempt of Congress, a move that follows recent attacks the GOP has made against the Justice Department. A contempt vote is intended to help the House enforce subpoenas and requests for testimony: By holding someone in contempt, lawmakers are effectively calling them out for failing to comply with congressional demands. 

Republicans say this is why they’re undertaking this vote, arguing that Garland is blocking oversight by defying subpoenas regarding tapes of President Joe Biden discussing his handling of classified documents. Holding Garland in contempt allows the House to refer their concerns to prosecutors for further penalties, though it doesn’t mean they’ll pursue the case. (In recent citations of contempt of Congress, the DOJ has advanced a handful of cases while dismissing others.) 

For his part, Garland has said that disclosing the recordings could endanger future investigations because subjects would hesitate to be candid in conversations with the government, for fear their tapes could be shared. He’s noted, too, that the DOJ has already provided transcripts of these interviews. The White House has also exercised executive privilege over these recordings, meaning that they believe they need to remain confidential because sharing the materials could impair governance. 

Congress does have a responsibility to provide executive oversight and to investigate questionable actions made by the executive branch. Given that the House already has transcripts of interviews they requested, however, this effort appears to be about more than getting Biden’s tapes on the public record. 

Instead, it seems driven by a GOP push to drum up political fodder — and undercut trust in the White House —  particularly as their own presidential nominee grapples with myriad legal problems. In the last year, the House has dialed up its investigations of the Biden administration, impeached Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, and threatened an impeachment of Biden himself.

The reason the GOP is targeting Garland

The issue at hand is the release of recordings of interviews that Biden did with Special Counsel Robert Hur about his mishandling of classified documents. Like former President Donald Trump, Biden has been under investigation for storing classified government materials at his private residence in a less-than-secure manner. Earlier this year, Hur recommended against bringing charges

House Republicans have argued that Hur’s tapes are important for building their ongoing case of impeachment against Biden, and called on Garland to release them. Garland has refused. 

“I view contempt as a serious matter,” Garland said at a June hearing. “But I will not jeopardize the ability of our prosecutors and agents to do their jobs effectively in future investigations.”

House Republicans have been eager to get their hands on these tapes in the hope of using them to emphasize Biden’s age and what some in the GOP have characterized as declining mental abilities, issues that have emerged as vulnerabilities in 2024. In one particularly pointed note, Hur said in his report summing up his investigation that Biden would likely come off to a jury as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” 

Since Garland has declined to comply with their request for the tapes, Republicans argue that they have grounds to hold him in contempt. By approving this resolution, the GOP then sends the issue to the DOJ and the US attorney of DC, who will decide if they think it’s worth pursuing the matter further. If they do, and Garland is convicted of contempt of Congress in court, he could face a fine between $100 and $100,000 and between one and 12 months in jail. 

“We assume this is going to wind up in court,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) told reporters on Wednesday. “But we think our case is strong and we think that we will prevail.” Legal advisers at the Justice Department believe that a criminal prosecution on this matter is unlikely to proceed because the White House has exerted executive privilege over the same material, the Hill reports

In recent years, the DOJ has prosecuted certain contempt of Congress cases, and rejected others. It opted not to move forward with citations of Trump administration Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, for instance, while pursuing those of Trump advisers Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon. Both Navarro and Bannon were ultimately convicted and have also been sentenced to jail time.

The Garland contempt vote is the latest in the House’s political stunts

The vote is a continuation of the House GOP’s political stunts as campaigning for the elections gets underway in earnest. 

Earlier this year, House Republicans impeached Mayorkas over claims that he was failing to enforce immigration laws and obstructing Congress’s investigation. That effort was part of the GOP’s efforts to heighten the focus on migrant crossings at the southern border, and to harp on Biden’s vulnerabilities on the subject. Democrats have countered that the concerns with Mayorkas did not reach the threshold for impeachment, with the DHS secretary himself noting that he’s provided extensive testimony and documentation to Congress. 

Similarly, House Republicans have pursued their bid to impeach Biden despite finding no evidence tying him to wrongdoing.

And now, the GOP is continuing that push and its attacks on Garland, as well as conducting other hearings intended to provide political fodder. The House Judiciary Committee will hold a panel featuring testimony from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who helmed the criminal prosecution of Trump in New York, in July, for example. 

All of this is meant to build a narrative that the Biden administration and its officials have abused their power and failed to effectively implement policies. Additionally, the Garland vote adds to longstanding gripes Republicans have levied against the Justice Department, including claims they’ve made about biases against the GOP. 

Collectively, such attacks seek to undermine public trust in the administration and the DOJ in particular as Republicans look to hurt Biden and protect Trump. 

Garland pushed back against the GOP’s efforts in a Washington Post op-ed defending himself this week. “We do not investigate people because of their last name, their political affiliation, the size of their bank account, where they come from, or what they look like,” he wrote. “Continued unfounded attacks against the Justice Department’s employees are … dangerous for our democracy. This must stop.”

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