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EDITORIAL: White House moves to keep Biden tapes under wraps

Democrats were outraged — outraged! — when special counsel Robert Hur announced in February that he wouldn’t pursue charges against Joe Biden for mishandling classified documents because, in part, the president was a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” who had “diminished faculties in advancing age.”

They’re notably silent now that the Biden administration refuses to release the audio tapes of the interviews from which Mr. Hur drew his conclusions. One can only imagine the huffing and puffing about the dangers of an “imperial presidency” were Donald Trump the one doing the obfuscating.

On Thursday, Attorney General Merrick Garland informed the House Judiciary Committee that the president was invoking executive privilege to avoid releasing recordings of the interviews. Transcripts have already been made public, but House Republicans have also sought audio.

If Mr. Hur’s conclusions about the president’s mental capacity were so far afield, why not allow Americans to hear Mr. Biden’s exchanges with the special counsel? Hiding them only arouses the worst suspicions. It’s notable that the White House prefers stoking potentially damaging speculation to allowing voters to hear the president for themselves and reach their own opinions.

Mr. Garland argues that releasing the audio “would raise an unacceptable risk” of undermining “similar high-profile criminal investigations — in particular, investigations where the voluntary cooperation of White House officials is exceedingly important.” But, as The Wall Street Journal noted last week, the president has previously “conceded that the interview wasn’t privileged.”

The fact that Republicans seek to use the audio for political gain is not sufficient justification to stretch executive privilege to the breaking point — particularly given that a transcript of Mr. Biden’s responses is already in the public domain. How is the audio protected but the transcript is not?

Republicans have a legitimate reason for their request. Mr. Hur stated that Mr. Biden’s age and memory lapses might elicit sympathy from a jury and that this was among the factors prompting his decision not to pursue criminal charges against the president. The audio — which would provide a more nuanced account of the interview than a sterile transcript — could shed additional light on the validity of that decision.

Democrats have now gone from insisting that Mr. Hur took gratuitous and unfair shots at the president to demanding the suppression of audio that they initially implied would dispel concerns about Mr. Biden’s mental acuity. Those tapes must be something else.

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