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Merrick Garland National, Peace Officer's Memorial
Attorney General Merrick Garland at the annual National Peace Officer's Memorial on the west lawn of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, ay 15, 2023. Photo credit: Office of Public Affairs / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 DEED)

In this week's political theater, House Republicans are trying to manufacture a "scandal" just so they can continue to make baseless claims about the "weaponization" of the Department of Justice. 

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In this week’s episode of “House Republicans,” a few plucky GOP lawmakers held Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for not providing them with the audio tape of President Joe Biden’s interview with special counsel Robert Hur… even though they already have the transcript.

In the end, they got exactly what they wanted: A flimsy excuse to claim that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is “weaponized” and does not apply the law equally.

Ostensibly, these Republicans claim that they needed the tape to verify that the transcript is correct. In reality, they want some soundbites from an aging president with a stutter to use on the campaign trail.

After all, Hur’s report described him as a “sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.”

But even more than that, they want to be able to claim that DOJ is biased against them… because that fits in with Donald Trump’s (completely unsubstantiated) narrative that he is the victim of a Biden administration-engineered political witch hunt, and that his criminal prosecutions are not the result of his own criminal behavior but rather an example of “lawfare.”

Again, there is no evidence for any of that, but that has never stopped the former president and his supporters. 

Furthermore, under the Trump administration, DOJ declined to criminally prosecute then-Attorney General William Barr and then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for defying congressional subpoenas. 

Back then, when it was Democrats who were the ones who voted to hold the Trump officials in contempt of Congress, it was widely understood that this was a symbolic move because there was no way DOJ was going to prosecute them. 

Therefore, it should not have been a surprise to anybody that the department did the exact same thing this time. The main difference between the situations is that Republicans already had the information they subpoenaed.

“Consistent with this longstanding position and uniform practice, the Department has determined that the responses by Attorney General Garland to the subpoenas issued by the Committees did not constitute a crime, and accordingly the Department will not bring the congressional contempt citation before a grand jury or take any other action to prosecute the Attorney General,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Carlos Felipe Uriarte in a letter to House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA).

It goes without saying that none of this stopped Johnson from insisting that this highly anticipated outcome was of DOJ’s weaponization.

“It is sadly predictable that the Biden Administration’s Justice Department will not prosecute Garland for defying congressional subpoenas even though the department aggressively prosecuted Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro for the same thing,” Johnson stated. “This is yet another example of the two-tiered system of justice brought to us by the Biden Administration.”

Of course, other events this week, specifically the conviction of the president’s son Hunter, will make it much more difficult for Republicans to credibly claim that DOJ somehow only targets Republicans.

Then again, they have abandoned making credible claims a long time ago, so why start now?

Author

  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a senior editor for Politics and director of the Mentor Apprentice Program at WhoWhatWhy. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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