Biden White House claims executive privilege to block congressional subpoenas for audio and video tapes of Biden's special counsel interview

 May 17, 2024

For several months now, Republican-led House committees have requested and even subpoenaed the audio and video tapes of Special Counsel Robert Hur's interviews with President Joe Biden and his ghostwriter, Mark Zwonitzer, that were conducted last year as part of the probe into Biden's unauthorized retention and willful mishandling of classified documents.

Biden's Justice Department has stridently refused to turn over the subpoenaed materials, and now, acting upon the DOJ's advice, the Biden White House has asserted its executive privilege to block the release of the tapes, Fox News reported.

It is a highly controversial move that thoroughly undermines the administration's empty claims of cooperation with congressional demands, not to mention a hypocritical one as well, given that Biden's White House has overridden, rejected, and waived similar assertions of executive privilege against Congress by former President Donald Trump.

Biden DOJ informs Congress of executive privilege claim

On Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Carlos Uriarte sent a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-KY) in belated response to their joint demands and subpoenas in late February for the audio and video tapes of President Biden and ghostwriter Zwonitzer's interviews with Special Counsel Hur.

"I write to inform you that the President has asserted executive privilege over the requested audio recordings and is making a protective assertion of privilege over any remaining materials responsive to the subpoenas that have not already been produced," Uriarte wrote.

The letter went on to provide a litany of excuses for the assertion of privilege, including by noting how the administration has already "made substantial efforts to accommodate" the committees' demands -- the DOJ previously turned over interview transcripts, two related classified documents, and correspondence between the DOJ and special counsel -- and decried the GOP efforts to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for the refusal to comply with subpoenas.

Uriarte also included a copy of a Wednesday letter from Garland to Biden, in which the AG wrote that the DOJ's "Office of Legal Counsel has concluded that the subpoenaed audio recordings fall within the scope of executive privilege and that you may assert executive privilege with respect t0 the recordings. I concur with this assessment. The Department has long recognized that executive privilege protects materials related to a closed criminal investigation where disclosure is likely to damage future law enforcement efforts, which I have concluded is the case here."

"To date, the Committees have failed to satisfy any of the potentially relevant standards for overcoming an assertion of executive privilege. The Committees’ needs are plainly insufficient to outweigh the deleterious effects that production of the recordings would have on the integrity and effectiveness of similar law enforcement investigations in the future," Garland added. "I therefore respectfully request that you assert executive privilege over the subpoenaed recordings. I also request that you make a protective assertion of executive privilege with respect to any other materials responsive to the subpoenas that have not already been produced."

Biden White House makes damning accusations against House GOP

In addition to that letter from AAG Uriarte, White House Counsel Ed Siskel also sent a separate letter to Reps. Jordan and Comer that reiterated the assertion of executive privilege and further chastised the Republican chairmen for their purportedly partisan and unnecessary demands for the audio and video tapes of the interviews.

"The absence of a legitimate need for the audio recordings lays bare your likely goal -- to chop them up, distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes," Siskel wrote. "Demanding such sensitive and constitutionally-protected law enforcement materials from the Executive Branch because you want to manipulate them for potential political gain is inappropriate."

As for the effort to hold AG Garland in contempt, that is " just the latest in the Committees’ damaging efforts to undermine the very independence and impartiality of the Department of Justice and criminal justice system that President Biden seeks to protect," he added. "Your subpoenas and contempt threats come in the wake of the Committees’ efforts to go after prosecutors you do not like, attack witnesses in cases you disapprove of, and demand
information from ongoing investigations and prosecutions, despite longstanding norms that these law enforcement processes should be allowed to play out free from such political interference."

House GOP chairs, Trump campaign respond

In response to those letters, Fox News reported that Chairman Jordan said Thursday, "This morning we get an 11th-hour invocation of executive privilege. President Biden is asserting executive privilege for the same reason we need the audio recordings -- they offer a unique perspective," and added, "This last-minute invocation does not change the fact that the attorney general has not complied with our subpoena."

"It’s a five-alarm fire at the White House. Clearly President Biden and his advisors fear releasing the audio recordings of his interview because it will again reaffirm to the American people that President Biden’s mental state is in decline," Chairman Comer said in a statement, and noted the White House "has already waived privilege by releasing the transcript of the interview.

"Today’s Hail Mary from the White House changes nothing for our committee," he added. "The House Oversight Committee will move forward with its markup of a resolution and report recommending to the House of Representatives that Attorney General Garland be held in contempt of Congress for defying a lawful subpoena."

As for Biden's prior waiving of former President Trump's executive privilege claims, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung told Fox News that "Crooked Joe Biden and his feeble administration have irretrievably politicized the key constitutional tenet of executive privilege, denying it to their political opponents while aggressively trying to use it to run political cover for Crooked Joe."

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Thomas Jefferson
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