House Speaker Mike Johnson vows to take Garland subpoena controversy to court

By Sarah May on
 June 16, 2024

Following a lengthy dispute over the release of audio tapes of a special counsel interview with President Joe Biden, the House of Representatives voted to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for refusing to comply with congressional demands.

Now that the Justice Department has formally declined to pursue criminal charges against the AG, House Speaker Mike Johnson has expressed not only his outrage but also his plans to take the matter to court, as The Hill reports.

House holds Garland in contempt

It was last week that the House of Representatives voted to hold Garland in contempt for his refusal to produce audio of Biden's classified documents interview with Hur following a standoff that had gone on for some time

Though the DOJ pointed to its prior provision of a written transcript of the interview and the assertion that the discussion between Biden and Hur did not pertain to the ongoing impeachment probe into the president as reasons for the audio to be withheld, Republicans remained unconvinced.

In the view of Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), “There's only one reason why the attorney general would [withhold audio]. He doesn't want us to hear it. That's why.”

“And there's really only two reasons why that would be the case – either the transcript doesn't match the audio, or the audio is so bad that he doesn't want us to hear it,” Roy added.

Along with the contempt holding, the House referred Garland to the Justice Department for criminal charges, though the potential practical impact of that was short-lived.

DOJ declines prosecution

As NBC News reports, it was not long before the DOJ confirmed widespread suspicions that it would not pursue criminal charges against Garland.

Explaining the agency's decision was Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte, who did so in a letter to Johnson.

“As you know, the President asserted executive privilege and directed the Attorney General not to release materials subpoenaed by the House Committees on the Judiciary and Oversight and Accountability (Committees) related to the investigation concluded by Special Counsel Robert K. Hur,” he wrote.

Uriarte went on, “The longstanding position of the Department is that we will not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide subpoenaed information subject to a presidential assertion of executive privilege, as explained in our May 16, 2024, letter to the Committees.”

Johnson vows action

The House speaker took to X to vent his frustration with the DOJ's determination, writing, as Just the News reports, “The House disagrees with the assertions in the letter from the Department of Justice, and as Speaker, I will be certifying the contempt reports to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.”

“It is sadly predictable that the Biden Administration's Justice Department will not prosecute Garland for defying congressional subpoenas even though the department aggressively prosecuted Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro for the same thing.”

Legal scholar and Fox News commentator Jonathan Turley heralded Johnson's pledge to take the matter co court, saying, “The position of Merrick Garland and withholding these audiotapes is not just unsupportable...[i]'s absurd,” and said that in terms of preserving appropriate constitutional order, “[t]his is the hill that you need to fight on.”

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