The House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena to provide the Special Counsel’s full report on Russian election interference and all of its underlying evidence.
Mr Barr defied the subpoena after the Department of Justice claimed there was no basis for the request and threatened to urge Donald Trump to invoke executive privilege over the report in a scathing letter sent to Congress.
Voting to hold the attorney general in contempt lays the foundation for Congress to file a civil lawsuit, as well as a criminal referral to be sent to the US attorney’s office in Washington. However, the courts could simply order Congress and the Justice Department to solve the inter-branch dispute amongst themselves, constitutional law experts have told The Independent.
Wednesday marks the first time the Democratic-led House of Representatives has held a vote on holding a member of the president’s administration in contempt of Congress. A later vote on whether to hold the attorney general in contempt was expected after a markup vote passed on party lines shortly after 10:00am local time.
Moments after the House voted to hold Mr Barr in contempt, the Justice Department sent a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler saying the “president has asserted executive privilege over the entirety of the subpoenaed materials.”
The White House also immediately tweeted the following statement after Wednesday’s vote: “The American people see through Chairman Nadler’s desperate ploy to distract from the President’s historically successful agenda and our booming economy. Neither the White House nor Attorney General Barr will comply with Chairman Nadler’s unlawful and reckless demands.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders then described Mr Nadler holding the vote as a "blatant abuse of power."
"Faced with Chairman Nadler's blatant abuse of power, and at the Attorney General's request, the President has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege," Ms Sanders said Wednesday.
Mr Nadler said Wednesday his committee was still open to “reasonable” offers from the Justice Department surrounding its compliance with the subpoenas despite the vote, adding, "This is not a step we take lightly."
Describing Mr Trump's attempts to invoke executive privilege over the report, the chairman said the "decision represents a clear escalation in the Trump administration's blanket defiance of Congress' constitutionally mandated duties."
The vote arrived after more than 700 former federal prosecutors signed a public letter saying Mr Trump would face criminal charges over obstruction of justice for the evidence outlined in the special counsel’s report, were he not the president. Current Justice Department guidelines state a sitting president cannot face criminal charges.
Mr Barr sought to clear Mr Trump of any wrongdoing after the special counsel concluded its report, immediately releasing a four-page summary seemingly claiming the president was not involved in any misconduct. That was shortly disproved after the Justice Department released a redacted version of the report that outlined at least 10 possible cases of obstruction of justice on the part of the president.
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