In an unfortunate stunt, Republicans hold AG Garland in contempt

As the Republican Party’s broader offensive against the Justice Department and federal law enforcement intensifies, Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote a Washington Post op-ed this week, calling on some partisan restraint.

“Disagreements about politics are good for our democracy. They are normal,” the nation’s chief law enforcement official wrote. “But using conspiracy theories, falsehoods, violence and threats of violence to affect political outcomes is not normal. The short-term political benefits of those tactics will never make up for the long-term cost to our country.”

One day later, House Republicans responded — by voting to hold the attorney general in contempt.

The final tally on the House floor was 216 to 207. (Seven Democrats did note vote, though the measure would’ve passed anyway.)

The outcome was hardly a foregone conclusion. As recently as late yesterday, Axios reported that the contempt resolution was “hanging by a thread” and was “in severe danger of being pulled by GOP leadership.”

As recently as this morning, Politico reported that there was “lingering skepticism” within corners of the House Republican conference, and given the party’s tiny majority in the chamber, and the unanimous opposition of Democratic lawmakers, the resolution would’ve failed if only a few GOP members balked.

They didn’t.

In terms of how we arrived at this point, it was early last year when President Joe Biden and his team made an unexpected announcement: The Delaware Democrat, after leaving the vice presidency, inadvertently took some classified documents with him. Team Biden contacted the authorities, returned the materials, and announced plans to cooperate with any investigation.

Soon after, Garland appointed Robert Hur to serve as a special counsel in the matter and eventually to prepare a report on his findings.

It concluded more or less how everyone assumed it would: The prosecutor decided not to indict the incumbent president. Soon after, Hur wrapped up his work and released a report, including a transcript of an interview Biden volunteered to participate in. (Donald Trump, in contrast, refused to be interviewed by either special counsel Robert Mueller or special counsel Jack Smith.)

In theory, that ended the story. In practice, however, there was one additional element that Republicans decided to pursue: the audio recording of the incumbent president’s Q&A with investigators.

The Biden administration has declined GOP lawmakers’ requests for the tape, and there’s no great mystery as to why: Officials realize that Republicans are simply looking for a political toy they can play with ahead of Election Day 2024. Former Republican Rep. Ken Buck admitted as much last month, explaining that Congress already has the transcript and relevant information, adding that his former GOP colleagues are “just looking for something for political purposes.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer went even further to prove Democrats right, declaring in a recent fundraising appeal that he wanted the recordings as part of an effort to target “swing voters across the country.”

If there was a question as to whether or not House Republicans were engaged in a partisan, election-year stunt, Comer appeared to answer it.

As for what happens now, the answer is, not much.

Given that there’s no legitimate or legislative reason to release the audio, Team Biden has asserted executive privilege. White House Counsel Ed Siskel told congressional Republicans in a letter last month, “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.”

With this in mind, NBC News reported that the White House’s move “all but eliminated the possibility that Garland would be prosecuted for ignoring the subpoenas. It’s also unheard of for Justice Department prosecutors to go after the head of their agency over a contempt issue.”

House Republican leaders and their members are well aware of the obvious details. They know their resolution will be ignored. They know their gambit has been exposed as a partisan stunt.

But GOP members nevertheless wanted to scratch a partisan itch, so they did. The public can expect to see a great many House Republicans boasting via conservative media and fundraising appeals about their willingness to “get tough” with Garland, even if the contempt resolution doesn’t amount to anything.

This post updates our related earlier coverage.