▶ Watch Video: Justice Department will not prosecute Merrick Garland for contempt of Congress

Washington — House Republicans filed a lawsuit against Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday as they seek audio recordings of President Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur as part of their impeachment inquiry.

The House Judiciary Committee’s lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Washington is the latest escalation in the fight over the audiotapes of Hur’s interview with the president and the ghostwriter of his book, Mark Zwonitzer. Hur interviewed both men as investigated Mr. Biden’s handling of classified documents.

The committee says it needs the audiotapes “because they offer unique and invaluable insight about information that cannot be captured in a transcript, such as vocal tone, pace, inflections, verbal nuance, and other idiosyncrasies,” according to the lawsuit. Lawmakers asked the court to order the Justice Department to hand over the material.

Hur declined to seek criminal charges against Mr. Biden for his handling of classified materials that he kept after serving as vice president, saying the evidence did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Biden violated the law. The special counsel made a number of observations about the president’s memory that enraged the White House and provided political ammunition to Republicans.

“Audio recordings are better evidence than transcripts of what happened during the Special Counsel’s interviews with President Biden and Mr. Zwonitzer,” the lawsuit said. “For example, they contain verbal and nonverbal context that is missing from a cold transcript. That verbal and nonverbal context is quite important here because the Special Counsel relied on the way that President Biden presented himself during their interview — ‘as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory’ — when ultimately recommending that President Biden should not be prosecuted for unlawfully retaining and disclosing classified information.”

The Republican-led House voted last month to hold Garland in contempt of Congress after the White House asserted executive privilege, blocking him from releasing the recordings to lawmakers.

But the Justice Department declined to take up the contempt referral, citing its longstanding policy to not prosecute officials for refusing to turn over subpoenaed information while citing executive privilege.

The lawsuit argued there is “no lawful basis” for Garland’s refusal to turn over the audiotapes.

“Garland violated, and continues to violate, his legal obligation by refusing to produce to the Committee the audio recordings of the Special Counsel’s interviews with President Biden and Mark Zwonitzer when those recordings are not covered by executive privilege, and, even if they were, executive privilege has been waived,” the lawsuit said.

Republicans have argued that the president waived executive privilege when the Justice Department released transcripts of the interviews.

House Republicans are also considering other avenues to acquire the tapes, including holding Garland in “inherent contempt,” a tool rarely used in modern times. An inherent contempt vote, which is being pushed by Rep. Anna Paulina Luna, could result in the attorney general being taken into custody, but most observers consider that outcome highly unlikely.

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