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US House holds attorney-general Merrick Garland in contempt over Biden audio recordings

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US House holds attorney-general Merrick Garland in contempt over Biden audio recordings

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The Republican-led US House of Representatives has voted to hold the country’s highest law-enforcement official in contempt of Congress for defying an order to hand over audio recordings of Joe Biden’s interviews with special counsel Robert Hur.

The House on Wednesday voted 216-207, along party lines, in favour of censuring attorney-general Merrick Garland, as allies of former president Donald Trump escalated their attacks on the Department of Justice.

House Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, said it was “up to Congress” to decide “what materials it needs to conduct its own investigations, and there are consequences for refusing to comply with lawful Congressional subpoenas”.

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He added: “This is a simple matter — we have the transcript, and we need the audio.”

Garland appointed Hur in January 2023 to investigate the president’s handling of classified information. The special counsel did not charge Biden but ignited a political firestorm in February when Hur’s report cast the president as an “elderly man” whose “memory was significantly limited” during interviews with investigators.

Last month, Biden blocked the release of audio recordings of his interviews with Hur, with the White House noting the DoJ had already released transcripts of those conversations.

Wednesday’s measure against Garland came just a day after Biden’s DoJ secured the conviction of the president’s son, Hunter, on federal firearm charges.

Republicans have repeatedly claimed, however, that the department has become part of Democratic efforts to prosecute Trump, who faces federal charges relating to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and to his mishandling of classified documents.

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In a letter seen by the Financial Times, Carlos Uriarte, head of the DoJ’s legislative affairs unit, told House Republicans last month that the department had “a responsibility to safeguard the confidentiality of law enforcement files where disclosure would jeopardise future investigations”.

Garland pushed back against Wednesday’s House vote, saying in a statement that it was “deeply disappointing” that the chamber “has 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,” Garland added.

The House’s censure means Garland could face prosecution, but only if the DoJ decides to begin a legal process against him. It brings to a culmination a fraught battle between the DoJ and Republican lawmakers, who have also sought to probe alleged business connections between Biden and his son Hunter.

Garland has appointed a trio of special counsels in a bid to quash accusations of bias, Hur, prosecutor Jack Smith, who has obtained two federal indictments against Trump, and David Weiss, who brought the gun charges against Hunter Biden.

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After Hunter Biden was convicted on criminal gun charges on Tuesday, Weiss thanked Garland for ensuring his office had the “independence to appropriately pursue our investigations and prosecutions”.

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Hur’s report into the president’s handling of classified documents sent shockwaves through Washington and revived questions about the 81-year-old’s age and fitness for office.

While Trump is only a few years younger — he will turn 78 later this week — Biden’s age is seen as one of the president’s biggest liabilities on the campaign trail.

In an op-ed published in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Garland said there had been an escalation of “baseless, personal and dangerous” attacks on the DoJ in recent weeks. “Using conspiracy theories, falsehoods, violence and threats of violence to affect political outcomes is not normal,” he warned.

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“The short-term political benefits of those tactics will never make up for the long-term cost to our country,” he said. “This must stop.”

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More Democratic lawmakers call for Joe Biden to withdraw from election race

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More Democratic lawmakers call for Joe Biden to withdraw from election race

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Eight more Democratic lawmakers, including a third US senator, have called for Joe Biden to withdrawn from this year’s White House presidential race, deepening the peril for his campaign for re-election.

In a joint statement on Friday morning, four US House members — Jared Huffman, Mark Pocan, Chuy Garcia and Marc Veasey — said it was time for the 81-year-old president to “pass the torch to a new generation of Democratic leaders”.

“We must face the reality that widespread public concerns about your age and fitness are jeopardising what should be a winning campaign,” the politicians added. House Democrats Sean Casten, Greg Landsman and Zoe Lofgren also called on Biden to drop out on Friday morning.

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Meanwhile, New Mexico senator Martin Heinrich became the third Democratic member of the upper chamber of Congress to urge Biden to drop out, joining Jon Tester of Montana and Vermont’s Peter Welch.

“This moment in our nation’s history calls for a focus that is bigger than any one person,” Henrich said, adding it was “in the best interests of our country” for the president to end his campaign.

Biden insisted on Friday that he would remain in the race, saying in a statement he “look[ed] forward to getting back on the campaign trail next week to continue exposing the threat of Donald Trump’s Project 2025 agenda”.

The president has been isolating at his holiday home in Delaware since testing positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday. White House doctor Kevin O’Connor said on Friday that Biden’s symptoms had “improved meaningfully” and he would continue taking Paxlovid, the antiviral drug.

The new wave of lawmakers calling for Biden to quit comes as Democratic party grandees such as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as the megadonors crucial to funding his campaign, heap pressure on him behind the scenes.

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The Financial Times reported on Thursday that donors and other senior party operatives believe Biden is very close to a decision to exit.

Chris Coons, the Democratic senator and close Biden ally, said on Friday that the president was getting the necessary advice to make a decision about his political future.

“I am confident he is hearing what he needs to hear,” he said while speaking on a panel at the Aspen Security Forum.

But Coons — who insisted Biden was “strong” and “capable” enough to carry on — acknowledged the unease within the Democratic party, saying: “There is a lot of concern and anxiety because the stakes are so significant.”

The latest interventions came a day after Trump formally accepted the Republican party’s nomination for president, less than a week after he narrowly escaped assassination in Pennsylvania.

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The former president has surged ahead of Biden in the polls despite his recent criminal convictions, building a lead across the crucial swing states that will decide November’s vote.

About 30 members of Congress have now said Biden needs to drop his re-election bid, a view shared privately by many more who have not yet gone public.

However, some Democrats, including many progressives, have supported him. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez used an Instagram livestream in the early hours of Friday to fiercely defend the president and accuse “donors” and “elites” of trying to cast him and vice-president Kamala Harris aside.

Biden’s disastrous debate performance against Trump last month sparked panic in the Democratic party over his age and fitness for office. After testing positive for Covid in Nevada he was seen apparently struggling to ascend a staircase into Air Force One to return home.

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Escaped prisoner found in Georgia 30 years later, using the identity of a dead child

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Escaped prisoner found in Georgia 30 years later, using the identity of a dead child

Steven Johnson escaped from Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, Ore., during a prison work detail in 1994. He was arrested on Tuesday in Macon, Ga., where had had assumed the identity of a dead child.

Oregon Department of Corrections/Bibb County Sheriff’s Office


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Oregon Department of Corrections/Bibb County Sheriff’s Office

An Oregon fugitive that escaped from prison 30 years ago was arrested at his apartment on Tuesday afternoon in Macon, Ga. According to authorities, he had been living under the identity of a dead child.

Steven Craig Johnson, 70, fled from a prison work detail at the Mill Creek Correctional Facility in Salem, Ore., in 1994. He was serving a state prison sentence for three counts of sex abuse and one count of attempted sodomy.

Johnson was listed on the Oregon Department of Corrections “Most Wanted” list. He was described as a pedophile who “presents a high probability of victimizing pre-teen boys.”

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At the time of his arrest, Johnson was using the alias William Cox. According to the U.S. Marshals Service, Johnson stole the identity of a child who died in Texas in 1962 after obtaining the child’s birth certificate and Social Security number in 1995.

Johnson secured a Georgia driver’s license in 1998, and had been living in Macon since 2011. The Oregon Corrections Department requested the U.S. Marshals to take on the search for Johnson in 2015. After pursuing multiple leads, new technology used by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service helped uncover new leads this year.

The facility Johnson escaped from was a minimum-security prison with no fence around it. Mill Creek prison closed in June 2021 under an order from former Gov. Kate Brown.

Johnson was booked into Bibb County Jail after arrest. He currently awaits extradition to Oregon.

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Video: Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

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Video: Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

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Trump Accepts the Republican Nomination

Former President Donald J. Trump concluded the Republican National Convention on Thursday with a speech that ran for more than an hour and a half.

[music: “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood] I am running to be president for all of America, not half of America. Because there is no victory in winning for half of America. So tonight, with faith and devotion, I proudly accept your nomination for President of the United States. Thank you. We will very quickly make America great again. Thank you very much.

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