Republicans advance contempt charges against Biden's ghostwriter for refusing to turn over records

House Republicans have advanced a resolution that would hold President Joe Biden’s ghostwriter in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over records related to the special counsel investigation into Biden’s handling of classified documents

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans advanced a resolution Thursday that would hold President Joe Biden's ghostwriter in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over records related to the special counsel investigation into Biden's handling of classified documents.

The House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to recommend contempt charges against Mark Zwonitzer, who worked with Biden on his two memoirs and through him was exposed to material that was deemed classified. The committee action paves the way for a possible floor vote by the House to refer Zwonitzer for criminal contempt.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, the chair of the Judiciary committee, issued a subpoena to Zwonitzer in March after he had refused to voluntarily turn over documents, including audio, video and transcripts of his interviews with Biden for the 2007 book “Promises to Keep” and 2017's “Promise Me, Dad."

“Zwonitzer continues to withhold all documents and materials in his possession that are responsive to the subpoena from the Committee,” the resolution states. “The materials requested from Zwonitzer are crucial for the Committee’s understanding of the manner and extent of President Biden’s mishandling and unlawful disclosure of classified materials, as well as Zwonitzer’s use, storage and deletion of classified materials on his computer.”

The contempt proceedings are the latest Republican legal salvo against Biden and his family. Earlier this month, Republicans voted to hold Attorney General Merrick Garland in contempt for his refusal to turn over audio from the special counsel interview with Biden. The White House had blocked the release of the audio weeks earlier by invoking executive privilege. It said Republicans in Congress only wanted the recordings "to chop them up" and use them for political purposes.

In a letter to Jordan on Tuesday, White House counsel Ed Siskel accused Republicans of not engaging with officials to accommodate their request before targeting Zwonitzer publicly.

"The Committee’s actions are an obvious example of the very weaponization of government for political purposes that you claim to decry," Siskel said in the letter obtained by The Associated Press. “Putting a private citizen in your political crosshairs and threatening him with criminal prosecution, simply because you refuse to engage with the Executive Branch, is out of bounds.”

Republicans opened their investigation into Biden after the February report by special counsel Robert Hur said that Biden was sloppy in his handling of classified material found at his home and former office. Hur said Biden shared classified information with Zwonitzer while the two were working on Biden's second book.

Hur's report concluded that no criminal charges were warranted against Biden. Prosecutors did consider charging Zwonitzer with obstruction of justice because the ghostwriter destroyed recordings of interviews he conducted with Biden while they worked on his second memoir together once he learned of the documents investigation.

But Hur said Zwonitzer offered “plausible, innocent reasons” for having erased the recordings and cooperated with investigators, meaning the evidence against him was likely “insufficient to obtain a conviction.” Investigators were also able to recover most of the deleted recordings from Zwonitzer's laptop.

But Republicans maintain that further review of Zwonitzer's access to classified materials is warranted to determine if legislative reforms need to be put in place for the storage, handling and disclosure of sensitive documents by members of the Executive Branch. Prolonging the investigation also keeps attention on parts of Hur's report that were politically damaging to Biden as he seeks re-election against former President Donald Trump in November.

Beyond the bitingly critical assessment of Biden's handling of sensitive government records, Hur offered unflattering characterizations of the president's memory in his report, sparking fresh questions about his competency and age that cut at voters' most deep-seated concerns about Biden seeking a second term.

“We need the audio recordings and the transcripts," Jordan said during the hearing Thursday. “Put simply, they are the best evidence of the president’s mental state.”

Democrats on the Judiciary committee called the contempt proceeding “an abuse of the committee's oversight authority,” and the latest ploy by Republicans to defend Trump as he faces his own federal investigation for retaining classified documents at his Florida club after he left the White House.

“We're here today because there’s a presidential debate tonight and MAGA Republicans have decided the best way they can help President Trump is by bullying and intimidating a private citizen to obtain information about his highly sensitive and deeply personal conversations with President Biden,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the committee, said in his opening statement.

He added, “We’re here today because Republicans are, in a word, desperate.”

While both Biden and Trump have been investigated for their handling of classified materials, there are major differences.

Biden’s team returned the documents after they were discovered, and the president cooperated with the investigation by voluntarily sitting for an interview and consenting to searches of his homes.

Trump, by contrast, is facing criminal charges related to classified materials. He is accused of enlisting the help of aides and lawyers to conceal the documents from the government and of seeking to have potentially incriminating evidence destroyed.

Credit: AP

Credit: AP