DOJ Won’t Pursue Contempt Charges Against AG Merrick Garland

Contempt AG Garland

The U.S. Justice Department informed Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson on Friday that it would not pursue criminal contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General Merrick Garland, according to a letter.

This decision followed the Republican-controlled House’s party-line vote to hold Garland in contempt for refusing to turn over audio recordings of a special counsel interview with Democratic President Joe Biden.

The department’s decision to decline charges was unsurprising. In similar past cases, the House voted to hold former attorneys general Eric Holder and William Barr in contempt, and the Justice Department similarly declined to pursue contempt charges.

In a statement on Friday, Johnson expressed disagreement with the Justice Department’s assertions and announced that House Republicans would “move to enforce the subpoena of Attorney General Garland in federal court.”

The Justice Department cited its long-standing policy against pursuing criminal prosecutions for congressional contempt in cases where the White House has asserted a legitimate claim of executive privilege, a legal doctrine that protects certain communications. In the case of the audio recordings, the White House had previously asserted privilege, and the Justice Department argued that disclosing them could chill future investigations.

The department had already turned over a transcript of Biden’s interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur, who investigated Biden for his retention of classified records. Hur’s report triggered a political firestorm after he declined to prosecute Biden.