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Justice Department rejects House GOP bid to obtain audio of Biden interview with special counsel

Takeaways from Hur's testimony on Biden probe
Takeaways from special counsel Robert Hur's congressional testimony 05:49

Washington — The Justice Department rejected a request from two Republican-led House committees that it turn over an audio recording of former special counsel Robert Hur's interview with President Joe Biden

The department said the committees had not identified an "investigative purpose" for their request of the audio and accused them of "escalation" and of seeking conflict "for conflict's sake," according to a letter sent to Chairs Jim Jordan and James Comer on Monday and obtained by CBS News. 

The House Judiciary and Oversight Committees issued subpoenas for the audio recording and other materials from the investigation — including transcripts of specific interviews — after Hur issued his report in February on Mr. Biden's handling of classified records from his time as vice president.

Hur's year-long investigation began after the discovery of documents with classified markings in Mr. Biden's home and office. Hur opted not to pursue criminal charges in the matter, but criticized the president's recordkeeping and wrote critically of the president's memory during an October 2023 interview with investigators. 

In his critique of Mr. Biden's conduct, Hur alleged the then-former vice president "shared information, including some classified information," with a ghostwriter as he wrote a memoir. Prosecutors ultimately concluded that criminal charges weren't the "proper remedy," according to Hur's report.

Hur, having completed his investigation and report, is no longer employed by the Justice Department, but the department still maintains control over the evidence he gathered during the probe and previously provided the committees with a full transcript of Mr. Biden's interview with Hur and his team.

And while the Justice Department also provided congressional investigators with the transcript of the ghostwriter's interview with prosecutors, according to Monday's letter, it did not meet the Monday deadline to turn over the audio recording of the president's two-day sit down from October 

"[I]t is critical for the Department to understand why the Committees believe they have a remaining need for the information in these files," Assistant Attorney General Carolos Uriarte wrote in his letter. 

He wrote the Justice Department had "worked diligently" to respond to congressional requests and argued that as a result of those efforts, the committees had already "received an extraordinary amount of information—and quickly." 

Uriarte said the Justice Department was "concerned" that Jordan and Comer's requests for the audio version of the interview — despite having already reviewed a transcript — was meant to "serve political purposes that should have no role in the treatment of law enforcement files." 

Releasing the audio files to Congress, he wrote Monday, risked "chilling" future investigations if witnesses feared that audio versions of their interviews might be released.

When they issued the subpoenas in February, congressional Republicans said they needed access to all requested materials like the audio recording to conduct oversight over Hur's probe and further evaluate Mr. Biden's conduct. 

They later accused federal officials of withholding relevant information and threatened Attorney General Merrick Garland with contempt proceedings. 

The House Oversight Committee said in a statement, "The Biden Administration does not get to determine what Congress needs and does not need for its oversight of the executive branch." 

"It's curious the Biden Administration is refusing to release the audio of President Biden's interview with the Special Counsel after releasing the transcript," the committee's statement continued. "Why shouldn't the American people be able to hear the actual audio of his answers? The American people demand transparency from their leaders, not obstruction." The committee said it would respond to the Justice Department soon.  

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment. 

Hur alleged in his report that near the start of his federal probe, the ghostwriter had deleted audio filings tied to the classified information Mr. Biden is accused of sharing with him. "The recordings had significant evidentiary value," the report said. But the FBI was able to recover the deleted files from the ghostwriter's computer. The government considered charging the ghostwriter with obstruction but ultimately decided against it, based on their findings. 

The former special counsel's description of Mr. Biden's memory prompted an outcry from the president and his allies. Mr. Biden pushed back soon after the report was released, saying his memory was "fine."

The transcript of Hur's October interview with Mr. Biden was released shortly before Hur testified before Congress last month and provided a fuller picture of the five-hour conversation. While Mr. Biden did stumble over some dates and struggled to find several words, he also recalled many specific details from years earlier.

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