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DOJ rebuffs GOP’s second demand for Biden-Hur audio recordings

The Justice Department on Thursday for a second time declined to turn over audio recordings of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur, rejecting claims from GOP impeachment investigators that the recordings contain information that would help them with their probe.

The letter renews the specter of possible contempt proceedings for Attorney General Merrick Garland. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) had floated this as a possible response if the audio files were not delivered Thursday.

“Our cooperation has been extraordinary. The Committees have not responded in kind. It seems that the more information you receive, the less satisfied you are, and the less justification you have for contempt, the more you rush towards it,” Carlos Uriarte, head of legislative affairs for the Justice Department, wrote in a letter to Jordan and House Oversight and Accountability Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.).

“The Committees’ inability to identify a need for these audio files grounded in legislative or impeachment purposes raises concerns about what other purposes they might serve,” he said, noting that the Justice Department has previously questioned whether they were being requested for political purposes.

“This concern has only deepened with the Committees’ failure to identify a legitimate purpose that would be served by production of these files,” Uriarte added.

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.)

House Committee on Oversight and Accountability Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) gives an opening statement during an oversight hearing of the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, April 11, 2024. (Greg Nash)

The panels already have a transcript of Biden’s interview with Hur, which reviewed how classified documents from his time as vice president ended up at his home and another office. Hur’s report was critical of Biden, but it determined there was not enough evidence to show he violated the law.

The Justice Department argued that sharing the recordings could make law enforcement’s job more difficult, and that witnesses might be hesitant to cooperate if recordings of their interviews were turned over to Congress.

Comer and Jordan last week wrote that their impeachment inquiry “will suffer without these audio recordings.”

“Your response to the subpoenas remains inadequate, suggesting that you are withholding records for partisan purposes and to avoid political embarrassment for President Biden,” they wrote.

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The duo said there is greater insight to be gained from audio recordings: “a unique and invaluable medium of information that capture vocal tone, pace, inflections, verbal nuance, and other idiosyncrasies.” 

“Transcription is incapable of recording these revealing verbal cues,” they wrote.

“For instance, a subject’s pauses and inflections can provide context or evidence of whether a subject is evasive or suffers from a ‘poor memory.’”

Much of the Justice Department’s rebuffing of the committees’ request is an indictment of their impeachment investigation overall.

In seeking the audio recordings, the two chairs suggested that Biden’s interview with Hur could somehow be revealing for the impeachment inquiry, suggesting without evidence that some of the documents in question could relate to their review of his family’s business dealings. 

“Nothing in the interview transcripts the Department has already produced speaks to or supports the Committees’ speculation on this point, and nothing in the audio file of the same conversations would do so either. Nothing in Special Counsel Hur’s report or his testimony indicates any support for this speculation, either,” the DOJ wrote.

GOP investigators also similarly suggested the materials might somehow shed light on their search for evidence Biden may have accepted a bribe.

“The Committees have offered no explanation why the audio of interviews, for which the Department has already produced transcripts, would address these questions,” Uriarte stated.

The DOJ noted that it also has arranged for congressional investigators to review two Ukraine-related documents that were among the files found at Biden’s home — but that Comer has not taken advantage of the offer.

“The Chair of the Oversight Committee has not yet taken us up on our offer, which we made over two months ago. Nonetheless, he has been publicly speculating (inaccurately) about their contents,” Uriarte said.

“Certainly, initiating contempt proceedings is not a substitute for evidence to support one’s claims,” he wrote.

Updated at 5:15 p.m.

Source: The Hill

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