WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden has asserted executive privilege over the tapes of his two-day interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur in his probe of the president’s alleged mishandling of classified information.

The tapes are at the center of a dispute between House Republicans and Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has defied a subpoena for them and today faces contempt proceedings.

Mr. Garland, in a May 15 letter to the president, said that the “committee’s needs are plainly insufficient to outweigh the deleterious effects that the production of the recordings would have on the integrity and effectiveness of similar law enforcement investigations in the future.”

Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte asked Republican leaders not to continue with the contempt proceedings.

“It is the longstanding position of the executive branch held by administrations of both parties that an official who asserts the president’s claim of executive privilege cannot be held in contempt of Congress,” Mr. Uriarte wrote to House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in a May 16 letter.

President Biden’s counsel accused House Republicans of wanting the tapes for political purposes.

“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. 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,” Ed Siskel, President Biden’s counsel, wrote to Mr. Comer and Mr. Jordan in a separate May 16 letter.

In a statement, Mr. Comer slammed President Biden’s move as politically motivated and reiterated that his committee will move forward with the resolution to hold Mr. Garland in contempt of Congress.

“It’s a five-alarm fire at the White House,” Mr. Comer said. “Clearly President Biden and his advisers 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.”

The House Judiciary Committee posted video footage from a hearing with the caption: “The Biden Administration is trying block our Constitutional oversight.”

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) slammed President Biden for exerting executive privilege in refusing to hand over the tapes.

“President Biden is apparently afraid for the citizens of this country and everyone to hear those tapes,” he said. ”They obviously confirm what the special counsel has found, and would likely cause I suppose, in his estimation, such alarm of the American people that the President is using all of his power to suppress their release.”

The move comes just hours before the House Oversight Committee and House Judiciary Committee are set to begin marking up a resolution to hold Mr. Garland in contempt for refusing to hand over those tapes.

The measure would need to pass the House before a referral is made to the Justice Department, but whether Mr. Johnson would bring a resolution to the floor is unclear.

The committees issued their subpoenas on Feb. 27, compelling the Justice Department to provide notes, audio files, video, and transcripts from Mr. Hur’s probe into President Biden’s handling of classified documents.

The department has since responded by providing transcripts of the special counsel’s interviews with the president and his biographer, Mark Zwonitzer, but no recordings.

Mr. Hur announced on Feb. 8 that President Biden would not be charged over his handling of classified documents after his vice presidency.

In a 388-page report to Mr. Garland, Mr. Hur said that “the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt” and that “prosecution of Mr. Biden is also unwarranted based on our consideration of the aggravating and mitigating factors.”

In deciding not to charge the president, Mr. Hur said that a jury likely would not convict him, in part because of alleged issues with mental acuity.

“We have also considered 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,” Mr. Hur wrote.
FOIA Lawsuit

House Republicans aren’t the only ones seeking access to the tapes.

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the recordings filed by media outlets and government watchdog groups have also gone unanswered, prompting a lawsuit.

Spearheading that lawsuit is Sam Dewey, chief litigator for The Heritage Foundation Oversight Project.

“So far, the only argument the government has made is that release of these tapes would somehow impinge on President Biden’s personal—not official, personal—privacy interests,” Mr. Dewey said of the litigation on a May 16 call with reporters.

He noted that there are certain exemptions to FOIA requests, such as information that would reveal a law enforcement technique. But as of yet, he said, the Justice Department has not asserted any of those exemptions.

As for claims that releasing the recordings would impede future investigations, Mr. Dewey noted that the transcripts of the interviews are already public, so releasing the audio shouldn’t make a difference.

“Let’s be practical,” he said. “If a special counsel asks the president for an interview and the president says no, he is going to be impeached with a great matter of speed and expedition. … In today’s political climate, you can’t refuse to cooperate like that. So, I think that argument is a bit of a red herring.”

Mr. Dewey plans to attend the Oversight and Accountability Committee’s mark-up of its resolution to hold Mr. Garland in contempt.

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