Written by Ashton Snyder on
 June 16, 2024

DOJ Declines to Prosecute Garland After House Contempt Vote

The Department of Justice has decided not to prosecute Attorney General Merrick Garland following a House of Representatives vote holding him in contempt of Congress.

The House held Garland in contempt for refusing to comply with subpoenas related to an inquiry into President Joe Biden's management of classified information, but the DOJ has since declined prosecution, citing executive privilege invoked by President Joe Biden, as Breitbart reports.

It was in February that the House issued subpoenas through its Oversight and Accountability Committee and Judiciary Committee. These subpoenas sought various records, including transcripts, notes, and multimedia files as part of their investigation.

President Biden, asserting executive privilege, instructed Garland not to comply with the subpoenas. Carlos Felipe Uriarte, assistant attorney general, stated that Biden "asserted executive privilege and directed Garland" not to release materials.

The House voted 216 to 207 in favor of holding Garland in contempt of Congress. This vote reflected a contentious debate over the separation of powers and executive privilege.

DOJ's Reasoning for Non-Prosecution

The Department of Justice declared that they had provided materials pertinent to all four of the House’s requests. Additionally, former special counsel Robert Hur’s report was submitted without any further redactions.

The investigation conducted by Hur examined President Biden's handling of classified information. Hur’s report, which was released in February, noted memory lapses in Biden’s testimony.

The DOJ upheld its long-standing stance that it would not prosecute for contempt of Congress when executive privilege is invoked. This established policy was also referenced in 2019 when then-Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faced similar sanctions.

Context of Executive Privilege Assertion

Assistant Attorney General Uriarte emphasized that President Biden's directive came after the DOJ had already complied significantly with the subpoena requests. The Department thus maintained that Garland’s response did not constitute a crime.

The DOJ further clarified that its legal position, reinforced by a legal opinion within the Department, supported the assertion of executive privilege. This justification was pivotal in their decision to decline prosecution.

Steve Bannon's recent legal entanglements also echoed in the backdrop of this incident. Bannon was sentenced to prison for contempt of Congress related to defying a subpoena from a committee investigating the Capitol unrest of Jan. 6, 2021.

Implications and Precedents

The decision not to prosecute Garland is, according to Biden administration officials, consistent with the DOJ’s historical approach. The Department asserted it would not present the contempt citation to a grand jury. The ruling underscores the complex interplay between the legislative and executive branches of government. It reflects ongoing tensions surrounding the application and limits of executive privilege.

In conclusion, the DOJ says that its determination not to prosecute Garland upholds a precedent informed by executive privilege though Republicans in Congress have a different view. The House’s decision to hold Garland in contempt and the subsequent DOJ stance serve as significant developments in the broader inquiry into the actions of high-ranking officials and the bounds of executive authority.

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About Ashton Snyder

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