House Republicans Sue Garland for Audio of Biden Interviews With Special Counsel

House Republicans on Monday filed a federal lawsuit against Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, asking a judge to force him to hand over audio recordings of President Biden’s interview with the special counsel who raised questions about his age and memory.

The suit, filed on behalf of the House Judiciary Committee in the U.S. District Court in Washington, seeks recordings of interviews that the special counsel, Robert K. Hur, conducted with Mr. Biden and Mark Zwonitzer, a ghostwriter, while investigating the president’s handling of classified materials.

In a report in February, Mr. Hur recommended no criminal charges, but his description of Mr. Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” and one who had “diminished faculties in advancing age” supercharged concerns about how fit Mr. Biden, now 81, is for his job.

The House Republicans’ lawsuit came just days after Mr. Biden’s halting performance in a televised presidential debate against former President Donald J. Trump — in which he gave unclear answers, repeatedly appeared to lose his train of thought and struggled to deliver his campaign message — prompted fresh questions about whether he should continue his run.

The Justice Department has provided the Judiciary Committee with transcripts of the interviews, but not the audio.

“Failure to require the production of the audio recordings would impermissibly impede the committee’s ability to exercise the House’s constitutionally delegated oversight and impeachment functions,” Matthew B. Berry, the House general counsel, wrote in the lawsuit.

Mr. Garland has resisted turning over the recordings, contending that releasing the audio could set a precedent that endangers the confidentiality of other law enforcement investigations. Democrats have also argued that Republicans have no legitimate legislative purpose in seeking the audio, but merely want to use edited clips to embarrass Mr. Biden in campaign ads.

Mr. Biden last month asserted executive privilege to deny House Republicans access to the recordings.

Mr. Hur’s report said Mr. Biden’s memory was so hazy during five hours of interviews over two days, conducted while the president was 80, that it would be difficult to convince jurors that Mr. Biden knew his handling of the documents was wrong. Mr. Hur predicted in the report that if the president were charged, his lawyers “would emphasize these limitations in his recall.”

Republicans have grown increasingly frustrated with their failure to obtain the recordings as part of their long-running impeachment investigation into Mr. Biden.

Last month, they voted to hold Mr. Garland in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a House subpoena, threatening the attorney general. But the Justice Department said it would not prosecute its own leader, leaving Republicans to strategize about other ways to target Mr. Garland.

Representative Anna Paulina Luna, Republican of Florida, is pushing for a snap vote to hold Mr. Garland in “inherent contempt” of the House. If successful, the effort would direct the House sergeant-at-arms to arrest the attorney general. But it is not clear that Republicans have the votes to do so.

And House Republican leaders have said they first want to see whether a lawsuit will be successful in helping them obtain the recordings.

Mr. Garland has condemned what he views as House Republicans’ politically motivated attacks on the Justice Department as payback for the prosecutions of Mr. Trump.

In May, Mr. Garland spoke out against “a series of unprecedented and, frankly, unfounded attacks on the Justice Department” that included Republicans’ efforts to defund the special counsel prosecuting Mr. Trump.

The Justice Department said Monday it was reviewing the lawsuit and would respond in court.

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