Biden claims executive privilege over recording of special counsel interview requested by House Republicans

Washington — President Biden claimed executive privilege over audio recordings of an investigation into his handling of classified documents, a top Justice Department official revealed in a letter to House committee leaders obtained by CBS News.

The assertion came at the recommendation of the Justice Department, as the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees planned to move forward with surcharges of a contempt of Congress resolution against Attorney General Merrick Garland Thursday for denying their request for audio recordings of an October 2023 interview with special counsel Robert Hur, which was part of the classified documents case against Mr. Biden.

“While our cooperation with Congress has been extraordinary, we also have a responsibility to protect the confidentiality of law enforcement records, where disclosure would jeopardize future investigations,” Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte wrote Thursday. “The Attorney General must draw a line that protects the Security Department from undue political influence and protects our principles, our law enforcement work and the people who independently carry out that work.”

The Justice Department claims it has “made substantial efforts” to respond to congressional committees' requests for information and materials following Hur's investigation into the president's past handling of classified documents. audio recordings are now in question.

“The committees have still not determined that there is still a need for these audio files,” Uriarte argued.

CBS News and other media have sued for access to the recordings.

The response and the coming vote could plunge the two departments into an election-year legal fight over the tapes, forcing the White House and Justice Department to justify handing over the transcripts to Congress and drawing a line at audio recordings of the president.

“We have done our utmost to ensure that the committees receive answers to their legitimate requests,” Garland told reporters in brief remarks Thursday morning. “But this isn't one.”

According to another letter obtained by CBS News from the attorney general to Mr. Biden, the legal basis for the president's claim that he had executive privilege came from the Department of Legal Counsel Justice, and Garland himself made the recommendation to the president.

“The needs of the committees are clearly insufficient to outweigh the detrimental effects that the production of the recordings would have on the integrity and effectiveness of similar law enforcement investigations in the future,” Garland wrote in a May 15 letter to the president. I respectfully request that you assert executive privilege over the subpoenaed recordings.

The attorney general wrote that he feared that turning over the tapes could risk chilling the cooperation of witnesses, including White House officials, in future investigations. He said the risk outweighs the commission's request.

The White House Counsel's Office also responded to the upcoming contempt votes, writing to House Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan and House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer on Thursday morning, saying they would likely “chop up” the recordings. and “distort” “for partisan political purposes.” should they obtain it.

“Requiring such sensitive and constitutionally protected law enforcement materials from the executive branch because you want to manipulate them for potential political gain is inappropriate,” Edward Siskel wrote Thursday.

The move to assert executive privilege, which gives the executive branch the ability to withhold certain communications from the courts or Congress under the separation of powers doctrine, is expected to shield Garland from criminal charges. Garland noted in a letter that the Justice Department has recognized in the past that executive privilege protects material related to “closed criminal investigations where disclosure is likely to harm future law enforcement efforts.”

The committees subpoenaed the audio recording and other documents in part to determine whether “sufficient grounds exist to establish articles of impeachment against President Biden,” according to committee reports. They argued that the subpoenas to the Justice Department are part of the House of Representatives' impeachment inquiry.

“The Department has not invoked constitutional or legal privilege to support the withholding of this material,” the reports said. “The failure to fully comply with the committees' subpoenas has hampered the House's ability to provide adequate oversight of Special Counsel Hur regarding his investigative findings and the President's retention and disclosure of confidential materials, and the impeachment -investigation of the committees hindered.”

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