Biden invokes executive privilege to shield Hur interview tapes from House | The Excerpt

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On Friday’s episode of The Excerpt podcast: USA TODAY Justice Department Correspondent Bart Jansen discusses how Presiden Joe Biden invoked executive privilege to keep the recording of his deposition about storing classified documents at his home confidential. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott pardoned the man who killed a Black Lives Matter protester in 2020. The Supreme Court backs Biden on a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau funding suit. Plus, the court allows Louisiana's congressional map with a new, mostly Black district. The U.S. military has begun Gaza aid deliveries from a floating pier. USA TODAY White House Correspondent Francesca Chambers talks about Biden's meeting with families involved in Brown v. Board of Education on the 70th anniversary of the landmark decision that led to the desegregation of schools.

Hit play on the player below to hear the podcast and follow along with the transcript beneath it.  This transcript was automatically generated, and then edited for clarity in its current form. There may be some differences between the audio and the text.

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Taylor Wilson:

Good morning. I'm Taylor Wilson and today is Friday, May 17th, 2024. This is The Excerpt. Today, a look at Biden's use of executive privilege surrounding his deposition on classified documents. Plus the Texas governor as pardoned a man who killed a Black Lives Matter protester. And today marks 70 years since the decision that led to the desegregation of schools.

President Joe Biden invoked executive privilege yesterday to keep the recording of his deposition about storing classified documents at his home, confidential. I caught up with USA Today, Justice Department correspondent, Bart Jansen, to learn more. Bart, thanks for hopping on.

Bart Jansen:

Thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

So Bart, what exactly is that issue here and what did this move functionally do?

Bart Jansen:

What it really did is block the House where House Republicans have sought to obtain the recording from getting it, at least for the time being. The Justice Department has already released a transcript of the recording.

Special counsel Robert Hur spoke to President Biden for hours in early November about him keeping classified documents from his time as vice president at his Delaware home during the four-year interim between serving the Obama administration and then becoming president himself.

Hur decided not to press charges against Biden and Republicans want to know more about how that decision was made. They think that Biden had the documents, that he shared them with others, such as his ghost writer.

And so perhaps criminal charges should have been filed. Hur, as you'll recall, put in his report that Biden was viewed as a sympathetic well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory. Well, that poor memory is part of why they want to listen to the recording. They say that hearing how he answered questions might give them better insight, both about the replies and perhaps about his mental fitness for office.

Taylor Wilson:

Bart, help us better understand executive privilege. Is invoking executive privilege in this way rare for presidents?

Bart Jansen:

It's both common and rare. The Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan group that answers technical questions for Congress says that nearly every president has invoked this, starting with George Washington. It's the idea that the executive can keep things confidential so that it can obtain basically candid advice and communications from advisors.

And so the idea is that if Congress can get access to everything that the president hears, that that might inhibit the kind of candid advice that he would get from aides through the years.

It came to a real test during the Nixon administration when, of course, during the Watergate scandal he was trying to keep information hidden from congressional investigators. But overall, the policy, the privilege of keeping communications confidential has been upheld by the courts all the way to the Supreme Court.

Depending on how far House Republicans want to push this, this could become a new test case if they want to push this through the courts to again try to this recording.

Taylor Wilson:

You mentioned House Republicans, the House Judiciary Committee, and the House Oversight and Accountability Committee each held votes on contempt resolutions yesterday. Bart, what exactly was the aim of these votes?

Bart Jansen:

Well, they're upset that Attorney General Merrick Garland has refused to provide the recording to lawmakers despite a subpoena for the recording. So the votes essentially send the resolutions to the full House.

The House must now consider whether to hold Garland in contempt. It's not the most unusual thing. Previous attorney generals, such as Eric Holder and Bill Barr were each held in contempt for refusing to provide information during congressional investigations.

But in both cases, the Justice Department declined to prosecute them. And so it becomes more sort of a publicity stunt than actual criminal charges against an attorney general.

Nevertheless, the House Democrats were trying to block the votes. They say it will smear Garland with this, basically finding him in contempt. Garland himself answered questions to reporters Thursday morning saying that he had gone to extraordinary lengths to give the committees responses to their legitimate request.

But he says this was not a legitimate request and he said it would harm the department's ability to conduct future criminal sensitive investigations. So it's quite a departure for Garland who usually speaks quite softly as a long-time federal judge.

The White House Counsel Edward Siskel was a little more blunt about it in sending the rejection to the House committees. He said the absence of a legitimate need for the audio recordings laid bare their goal is to chop them up, distort them, and use them for partisan political purposes. So the White House was pulling no punches on these requests.

They consider this partisan theater, but House Republicans say that this is important for them to be independent, to be able to judge Biden and his fitness for Office. Comer said the response from the White House is like a five alarm fire because of the crisis. And so they're going to try to keep holding Biden and the White House's feet to the fire in this dispute.

Taylor Wilson:

All right, great breakdown as always. Bart Jansen covers the Justice Department for USA Today. Thanks, Bart.

Bart Jansen:

Thanks for having me.

Taylor Wilson:

The Judiciary Committee voted 18 to 15 along party lines to approve the contempt resolution after a four-hour hearing. And the Oversight Committee also voted along party lines 24 to 20 to approve its own contempt resolution after a testy hearing.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott has pardoned Daniel Perry, the man who killed Black Lives Matter protester, Garrett Foster, in 2020. That summer, Perry shot and killed Foster after driving into a racial justice protest in Austin. Perry claimed that he shot Foster who was carrying an AK-47 rifle in self-defense. During Perry's trial last year, prosecutors argued that he had sought out the confrontation. Less than 24 hours after a jury last year found Perry guilty of murder, Abbott said on social media that he would approve a pardon if one were recommended by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles. The announcement came after prominent conservative figures called on him to undo Perry's conviction.

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's funding mechanism in a challenge brought by the payday loan industry. The move keeps the Obama-era agency in place and sustains a regulation from 2017 had cracked down on payday lenders.

Instead of putting the Bureau through annual budget fights on Capitol Hill like most of the government, the CFPB is funded through the Federal Reserve, an effort to shield it from political pressure. Critics said the arrangement violated the constitution and the principle that Congress alone holds the power of the purse.

The seven-to-two decision was a victory for the Biden administration, which had asked the court to overturn a conservative appeals court decision in validating the funding mechanism.

The high court this week also cleared the way for Louisiana to use a congressional map with a second-majority Black district. The court's decision made in response to an emergency request from state officials and voting rights advocates is the latest twist in a years-long battle over the boundaries of the state's six congressional districts involving the intersection of race, politics and redistricting.

The Supreme Court put on hold a lower court's ruling in validating a map that increased the number of mostly Black districts from one to two. You can read more with a link in today's show notes.

The US military said earlier today that it has started moving aid to Gaza using a floating pier it built off the coast of the Palestinian territory as part of efforts to boost humanitarian deliveries to the enclave. US Central Command said in a statement that no US troops want to ashore as trucks began using the makeshift dock.

The project has been delayed by bad weather and cost an estimated $320 million and some 1000 US troops to build. The UN and international officials have stressed that maritime access for aid deliveries should not be viewed as a substitute for land routes to Gaza via Israel and Egypt, which can handle a higher volume of trucks.

Meanwhile, South Africa asked the top international court yesterday to order a halt to the Rafah offensive, accusing Israel of Genocide. And saying that the country's war effort must be stopped to protect the Palestinian people.

South Africa's legal representatives at the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court said, Israel's shutdown of the Rafah and Kerem Shalom border crossings have plunged Gaza into unprecedented levels of humanitarian need.

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the 1954 decision in Brown versus Board of Education, leading to the desegregation of schools. And President Joe Biden is meeting with families involved in the Civil rights case this week. USA TODAY White House correspondent Francesca Chambers joined me from the White House to discuss. Francesca, thanks for hopping on.

Francesca Chambers:

Hi. It's always great to be on with you, Taylor.

Taylor Wilson:

It's always great to have you on. So just walk us through yesterday's meeting, if you would. What took place here?

Francesca Chambers:

Well, the meeting, Taylor, with the families and plaintiffs, as well as members of the NAACP took place behind closed doors in the Oval Office. So we didn't get to see it, but they did come outside and hold a news conference with White House reporters afterwards.

And it was really interesting. Cheryl Brown Henderson, whose family is the namesake of the Brown case, said that one of the plaintiffs in the meeting asked the president to make Brown v Board of Education decision date a national holiday.

Now, asked about this later, the president's public engagement adviser, Steve Benjamin, noted that he had made Juneteenth a federal holiday. And he also pointed out that the president had taken other steps, including passing anti-lynching legislation, as well as pursuing policing reforms.

Taylor Wilson:

Can you help us understand how this meeting was really emblematic of Biden's evolution on civil rights issues?

Francesca Chambers:

So if you recall, Taylor, there was this flashpoint moment in a 2019 Democratic presidential primary debate, in which now Vice President Kamala Harris noted to him that she had been bused to school as a child in California.

Now, Biden had been against busing, which was a forced integration program that took Black students and brought them to White communities to go to school and vice versa. Now, a few months later, he went on to win the South Carolina Democratic primary, which was largely because of the Black community. And it came after a major endorsement from a congressman and a civil rights leader.

He picked Vice President Harris to be his running mate on the ticket. And the White House stressed repeatedly yesterday what he's done for the Black community, including larger investment in HBCUs. And recall that he was vice president to the first Black president, Barack Obama.

Taylor Wilson:

Francesca, we're in this moment where debates and political battles have popped up over diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. How is Brown versus Board of Education still relevant today?

Francesca Chambers:

That families talked about that a little bit. And Taylor, in an interview prior to the meeting with President Biden, Henderson told me democracy is on the line. And this part was really interesting.

She said that democracy gave birth to the rule of law and the rule of law gave birth to Brown, the Board of Education. And so for Henderson who founded the Brown Foundation, which seeks to educate people across America today about the impacts of the case, this is still very relevant.

Taylor Wilson:

So more events are set for today, Francesca. What can we expect?

Francesca Chambers:

Well, President Joe Biden will be speaking at the African-American Museum in Washington, D.C., at an NAACP event. And also over the weekend, he'll be giving the commencement address at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. He'll speak on Sunday evening at an NAACP event in Detroit too.

Taylor Wilson:

All right, Francesca Chambers USA today, White House Correspondent. Thanks as always.

Francesca Chambers:

Thanks so much.

Taylor Wilson:

Thanks for listening to The Excerpt. We're produced by Shannon Rae Green and Bradley Glanzrock, and our executive producer is Laura Beatty. You can get the podcast wherever you get your audio. And if you're on a smart speaker, just ask for The Excerpt. I'm Taylor Wilson, back tomorrow with more of The Excerpt from USA Today.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden uses executive privilege to shield Hur interview | The Excerpt