The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena demanding the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence.
The vote came just hours after President Trump invoked executive privilege over special counsel Robert Mueller’s complete findings, escalating its battle with Congress.
In a 24 to 16 vote along party lines, the contempt resolution will now advance to the full House, which will vote on it at a later date.
It is the second time in history an attorney general has been held in contempt of Congress. In 2012, a Republican-controlled Congress voted to hold then-Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt for refusing to turn over documents.
Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Mr. Barr was inching towards progress with the Democrats in discussions to hand over more of the Mueller report, but called their demands unreasonable.
“It is deeply disappointing that elected representatives of the American people have chosen to engage in such inappropriate political theatrics,” Ms. Kupec said in a statement “Regrettably, Chairman Nadler’s actions have prematurely terminated the accommodation process and forced the President to assert executive privilege to preserve the status quo. No one, including Chairman Nadler and his Committee, will force the Department of Justice to break the law.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, begin the nearly six-hour hearing lambasting Mr. Trump for raising executive privilege.
“The Trump administration has taken obstruction of Congress to new heights,” he said in his opening remarks. “Unfortunately, the attorney general has been all too willing to support the president in this endeavor.”
Republicans said the Justice Department made multiple efforts to reach an accord with Democrats, but those overtures were rebuffed.
“Yesterday they made a reasonable offer to avert his spectacle, and, once again, the chairman declined,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top-ranking Republican.
Mr. Barr released a redacted version of Mr. Mueller’s final conclusions in April. The 448-page report said there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but identified 10 instances of possible obstruction. Mr. Mueller declined to reach a decision on obstruction, but Mr. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein cleared the president.
Democrats, however, have demanded the full report, saying it is necessary to decide if impeachment is warranted. They subpoenaed the redacted materials, but Mr. Barr missed two deadlines to turn it over.
One Democrat explicitly said impeachment is the goal of accessing the full Mueller report.
“How can we impeach without getting the documents?” asked Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia.
The Justice Department has insisted it cannot turn over the complete Mueller report because the confidential grand jury information is protected under federal law.
Republicans repeatedly hammered that point during the hearing.
“The committee, by making this insistence and issuing this subpoena, is telling the attorney general of the United States to commit a crime because it is a crime for anyone to disclose grand jury information to anyone else,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Wisconsin Republican.
“It is absolutely shocking that the majority of this committee is going to ask the chief law enforcement officer of the United States to commit a crime,” Mr. Sensenbrenner said. “Shocking.”
But Mr. Nadler surprised Republicans by saying that he’s not seeking grand jury information, only materials redacted for other reasons, including revealing intelligence sources and or harm to a peripheral third-party.
“The subpoena was never intended to cover Rule 6E, which is why we asked the attorney general to go to court get permission to view 6E material,” he said. “It was never intended to put him in jeopardy.
Democrats said Mr. Barr and the president are flouting the law by shielding parts of the Mueller report. They say he is ignoring a lawfully issued subpoena related to Congress’ authority to conduct oversight.
“The congressional subpoena is the law,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat. “Bill Barr is violating the law right now, he is not complying with it.”
“We see the president who is attempting to destroy the basic institutions of government by directing his attorney general and others in his administration to stonewall the American people,” said Rep. David Cicilline, Rhode Island Democrat. “This is a crisis.”
The contempt vote occurred after 11-hour negotiations between committee staff and Justice Department officials broke down.
In a late Tuesday letter to Mr. Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd, argued the Justice Department tried to meet Democrats’ requests but they “escalated its unreasonable demands.”
“Such unreasonable demands, together with the committee’s precipitous threat to hold the attorney general in contempt, are a transparent attempt to short-circuit the constitutionally mandated accommodation process and provoke an unnecessary conflict between our respective branches of government,” Mr. Boyd wrote.