US Justice Dept won't pursue contempt charges against Attorney General Merrick Garland

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department on Friday told Republican House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson that it would decline to pursue criminal contempt of Congress charges against Attorney General Merrick Garland, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter comes just two days after the Republican-controlled House voted along party lines 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 not to pursue charges comes as no surprise.

In two other past cases in which the House voted to hold former attorneys general Eric Holder and William Barr in contempt, a very similar letter declining to pursue contempt charges was also sent to lawmakers.

In a statement on Friday, Johnson said he disagreed with assertions in the Justice Department letter and that House Republicans will "move to enforce the subpoena of Attorney General Garland in federal court."

The Justice Department on Friday cited its long-standing policy against pursuing criminal prosecutions for congressional contempt in cases in which the White House has asserted a legitimate claim of executive privilege, a legal doctrine that shields certain communications.

In the case of the audio recordings, the White House previously asserted privilege and the Justice Department has said disclosing them could chill future investigations.

The department has already turned over a transcript of Biden's interview with Special Counsel Robert Hur, who investigated him for his retention of classified records.

Hur's report set off a political firestorm after he declined to prosecute Biden.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Leslie Adler)