U.S. House fails to pass measure to hold attorney general in ‘inherent contempt’

Republished from Kentucky Lantern

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WASHINGTON — In the latest U.S. House Republican attempt to secure audio tapes from the U.S. Justice Department special counsel’s interview with President Joe Biden, the U.S. House on Thursday rejected Florida Republican Rep. Anna Paulina Luna’s resolution to fine Attorney General Merrick Garland for withholding them. 

The measure — which was turned down 204-210 — would have levied a daily fine of $10,000 against Garland under the House’s seldom-used “inherent contempt” power until he complies with a subpoena to release the tapes of the interview between special counsel Robert K. Hur and Biden surrounding his handling of classified documents.

Four Republicans voted against Luna’s measure, including California Reps. John Duarte and Tom McClintock, along with Ohio Reps. David Joyce and Mike Turner.

The resolution is part of a wider effort among Republicans to secure the audio — a drive that’s only intensified since Biden’s disastrous debate performance two weeks ago.

During floor debate on Wednesday, Luna described the effort as a way to hold Garland accountable to the legislative branch.

“With Attorney General Garland and the Department of Justice refusing to follow the law, we have been left with no choice but to rely on inherent contempt,” she said.

Meanwhile, Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, on Wednesday called the measure “stupid,” and noted Republican leaders’ tepid support for it.

“Republican leadership knows this is a stupid resolution,” he said. “Their own members know this is a stupid resolution, but they’re beholden to the craziest MAGA members in their conference. So, this is what we get: stupid resolutions on the floor because they’re too chicken to stand up to the extremism in their own party.”

The debate was delayed for more than 20 minutes after Virginia Republican Morgan Griffith asked for McGovern’s words to be stricken. After the pause, McGovern conceded to having his words stricken and did not use the word “stupid” for the rest of his remarks.

“I urge a no vote on this – I’ve got to take this word out now – on this resolution,” he said.

The Justice Department declined to comment on Luna’s effort Wednesday.

GOP leadership 

Former President Donald J. Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, took to Truth Social on Wednesday to show his support for Luna’s effort.

“I AGREE with Anna Paulina Luna and the many House Members who think Merrick Garland should be held in INHERENT CONTEMPT for refusing to release the Biden Tapes even though they were subpoenaed!” Trump wrote.

U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson expressed some skepticism over Luna’s measure, saying at a Tuesday press conference that “as a former constitutional law litigator, my preference is to follow the legal process, the legal proceedings, that protect the institution.”

Johnson, of Louisiana, said he would rather focus on the civil suit from House Judiciary Committee Republicans, though he said that if the Luna measure came to the floor, he would vote for it.

“I’d rather do it in a way that we’ve done in our present litigation, but we’ll let the chips fall where they may,” Johnson said, adding that “every member has the right to bring a privileged motion like that, and Anna’s very committed to this principle and I am, too. We all are. I think every Republican is.”

Luna’s resolution  also signaled a walkback from her earlier effort introduced in May, which called for the House sergeant-at-arms to detain Garland.

Historically, Congress has shied away from the lengthy and burdensome inherent contempt move — which has not been used in either chamber since the 1930s — prompting questions about how the House could actually enforce the fine.

Republicans’ push for tapes

Garland has been hit with several attempts by House Republicans to try to secure the audio tapes.

Last month, House Republicans voted to hold Garland in contempt of Congress after he agreed with Biden’s assertion of executive privilege over the tapes.

Garland also faces a civil lawsuit from the House Judiciary Committee filed last week in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, which seeks to overturn Biden’s assertion of executive privilege.

House Republicans are still pushing for the audio despite the Justice Department offering up a transcript of the interview between Hur and Biden to the House Judiciary Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Accountability.

Garland tapped Hur to investigate Biden’s handling of classified documents back in January 2023. Hur, a federal prosecutor during the Trump administration, wrote in the report that Biden “willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen.”

However, Hur declined to prosecute the president. He noted that “at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” The octogenarian fiercely rejected the characterization of his memory.

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https://kentuckylantern.com/2024/07/11/u-s-house-fails-to-pass-measure-to-hold-attorney-general-in-inherent-contempt/