WASHINGTON, June 13 — The Republican-led US House of Representatives voted yesterday to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over audio of President Joe Biden’s questioning in a criminal investigation.

The move — seen as symbolic, since Garland’s Justice Department would ultimately decide whether to press charges — is the latest escalation in hostilities between allies of Republican Donald Trump and the White House ahead of November’s election.

Republicans have been demanding the tapes of Biden’s October deposition with Special Counsel Robert Hur, who interviewed the president for his inquiry into classified documents Biden improperly retained after he left the vice presidency.

Hur concluded in February that charges were not warranted but made the politically explosive claim that Biden had “limited precision and recall” and would likely be seen by a jury as “a sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory.”

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The House voted 216 to 207 to hold Garland in contempt and refer him to the Justice Department, with just one Republican — former public prosecutor Dave Joyce of Ohio — coming out against the resolution.

Speaker Mike Johnson, who leads the House Republicans, hailed a “significant step in maintaining the integrity of our oversight processes and responsibilities.”

“It is up to Congress — not the executive branch — to determine what materials it needs to conduct its own investigations, and there are consequences for refusing to comply with lawful congressional subpoenas,” he said in a statement.

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Garland said in a statement it was “deeply disappointing” that Republicans had “turned a serious congressional authority into a partisan weapon.”

“Today’s vote disregards the constitutional separation of powers, the Justice Department’s need to protect its investigations and the substantial amount of information we have provided to the committees,” he added.

Democrats in Congress say officials cooperated with Republican investigators by turning over a 250-page certified transcript of Biden’s interview with Hur.

They accuse Republicans of demanding the audio simply because they want to use it to damage Biden in campaign ads. But Johnson counters that his committees need the tapes to verify the accuracy of the transcripts.

The move comes as an impeachment inquiry into Biden over allegations of corruption flounders following a series of hearings led by House Republicans that failed to demonstrate any wrongdoing by the Democratic president.

“House Republicans are attempting to blame Attorney General Garland for the failure of their sham impeachment investigation into President Biden by bringing a baseless, nakedly political contempt resolution to the floor,” said Democratic Whip Katherine Clark.

Garland is the third attorney general and fourth cabinet official to be held in contempt by the House since 2012.

Lawmakers referred Donald Trump’s trade advisor Peter Navarro and longtime ally Steve Bannon for prosecution in 2022 for defying the committee investigating the 2021 assault on the US Capitol.

Bannon has been ordered to report for a four-month jail sentence on July 1 and Navarro is nearing the end of a term of the same length. — AFP