The House Judiciary Committee moved Wednesday toward holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to produce an unredacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and its underlying evidence.
The committee, led by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), voted 24-16 to refer a contempt resolution to the full House after Barr skipped a committee hearing last week that would have examined his role in the Mueller report.
“We are now in a constitutional crisis,” Nadler said after the vote.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement Wednesday that the contempt vote was “politically motivated” and unnecessary.
“It is deeply disappointing that elected representatives of the American people have chosen to engage in such inappropriate political theatrics. Regrettably, Chairman Nadler’s actions have prematurely terminated the accommodation process and forced the President to assert executive privilege to preserve the status quo,” Kupec said. “No one, including Chairman Nadler and his Committee, will force the Department of Justice to break the law.”
After the vote, Nadler said at a press conference that he expects the resolution to go to the full House soon, but that it might not be as soon as next week. The chairman said he still wants to hear testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn and Mueller himself.
Barr has faced criticism from Democrats for mischaracterizing the Mueller report’s findings in a letter to Congress and for holding a Trump-friendly press conference ahead of his release of a redacted version of the report, which looked into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Earlier during Wednesday’s hearing, the committee learned that President Donald Trump asserted executive privilege over the Mueller report. In a letter to Nadler, Barr wrote that the president was making a “protective assertion of executive privilege” to make sure he had time to decide whether to claim privilege on some of the documents.
The assertion of executive privilege Wednesday morning was a major escalation of the Trump administration’s continuing battle with congressional oversight.
The Justice Department told the committee on Tuesday of the possibility that Trump might assert executive privilege over Mueller-related materials if the committee continued with its contempt resolution hearing. Nadler responded to the warning by saying he expected Congress “will have no choice but to confront the behavior of this lawless administration” and that the House Judiciary Committee would take a “hard look” at the officials “enabling this cover up.”
House Democrats and the Justice Department have butted heads since last week, when the attorney general failed to show up to a scheduled House Judiciary hearing because he didn’t want to be questioned by a committee lawyer for an extended period of time.
Barr did show up for his scheduled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, during which Democrats grilled him over the same concerns that he had spun the special counsel’s findings in his summary of the more-than-400-page report. The attorney general spent his testimony defending his actions and criticizing the media’s portrayal of those findings. After the hearing, several Democrats said that Barr should resign as attorney general.
The night before Barr’s Senate hearing, The Washington Post reported that Mueller had written a letter to him saying that the special counsel’s findings had been mischaracterized in the attorney general’s four-page summary of the report, including quoting select lines out of context.